CLEVELAND -- A hamstring injury prevented Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard J.R. Smith from finishing off the 117-111 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 2 of the opening round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena Monday night.
Smith played only 18 minutes against the Pacers, but in his absence, fellow guard Iman Shumpert stepped in and after not playing in the first game of the best-of-seven series, filled a void by scoring five points and sparking the defense with his pressure against Pacers leader Paul George in the third quarter.
“What I saw was a true professional,” Cavaliers small forward LeBron James said. “The guy stayed ready. His number wasn’t called in Game 1, wasn’t called for the first half this game, and because of the circumstances, his number was called right away and he had to be ready.
“He’s been keeping himself ready behind the scenes. We needed it. We needed that energy from him. He also hit a big three on a swing-swing from Kev on the left side of the floor by their bench, and just gave us a lot of energy, so he’s a true professional. It’s definitely a great way to stay ready and be ready for the moment and he was there.”
Shumpert buried two of his three attempts from the field, including one of his two three-point tries on the way to the five points. Additionally, Shumpert tallied a steal, but it was his defense against George that perhaps was the most important contribution.
After George scored 18 points in the first half, Shumpert held him to just four on one-of-four shooting.
“He did a great job,” reserve forward Channing Frye said. “I think Paul George is an amazing athlete. He is unbelievably good, but just to make his life difficult, I think Shump did a great job stepping in, and that’s just part of being a professional on this team.
“Guys get DNPs one game, and the next, they’re like, ‘Hey, go guard one of the best, top three players in the league.’ It’s just how we live, and he did a good job, so I think he deserves the game ball.”
Prior to the start of the third quarter, Shumpert had a brief on-court meeting with point guard Kyrie Irving, one of his closest friends on the team. And Irving watched on as his good friend contributed to the victory.
“He gave us energy,” Irving said. “To have J.R. go out like that and come out at halftime, it was a big switch, but understanding that he’s there every day and he’s focused. Just understanding the moment, what it entails and going forward, he came in and just made some big plays for us. That’s a step in the right direction of just being the consummate professional, especially on a team like this.
“We have so many pieces on this team, but everyone has to stay ready. He had that mindset, came in and executed. It’s hard to come off the bench just right after halftime, but we just need Shump to stay focused and understand the task at hand. I think he did a great job of that.”
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