J.R. Smith may have had the best game of the season Saturday night against the Grizzlies. But it wasn’t in the exact way you’d expect. Yes, Smith was 6-8 from the field against Memphis. Yes, he was 4-5 from three. And yes, he made a very on brand three-pointer that saw him fading into the corner because he’s J.R. Smith and that’s what he does.
But he also impacted the Cavs’ win in ways he hasn’t consistently this season. For one, Smith’s cutting got him open looks inside. A Kevin Love screen frees him up here as the Cavs rely on LeBron James’ passing to create open looks:
He also had moments where he created for others in an ancillary role. First, here’s him running a pick-and-roll with LeBron that the Grizzlies had no chance of stopping. You don’t want to build an offense around Smith’s playmaking, but using it to get LeBron easy looks is smart:
Later, Smith pushes the ball up the floor with James resting and hits Love with a perfectly placed pass:
Later, off of a steal, Smith leads a fastbreak and makes the right read to Kyle Korver on the right wing for an open three-pointer, although Korver misses:
Smith shone on defense as well. So far this year, the Cavs are 9.2 points better per 100 possessions on defense, per basketball-reference. But against the Grizzlies, he tied his season high for steals with three and was alert. Here, he picks off a pass in help defense and sets up a successful Cavs fast break:
Later, he fights Ben McLemore on the elbow and pokes an entry pass free. The result is a LeBron going full speed ahead to the rim for two points. Note that Smith also went to the corner immediately, putting himself in the right position to shoot an open three-pointer had James decided to pass:
This is the Smith the Cavs need. They need more than this three-point shooting and floor spacing around LeBron. They need Smith to be active on defense, to play-make in moments where the Cavs ask him to, and to cut towards the rim when the opponent assumes he’ll flair out for three. When Smith plays like this, this team is at its best.