A pull-up jumper from 19-feet out, his only shot attempt in the opening quarter, started a historic run for J.R. Smith.
All he needed was for that first shot to drop and then for the rest of the night, he didn’t need to get any closer to torch Atlanta in the opening game of the 2015 Eastern Conference finals.
By the time it was all over, Smith had set a Cavaliers playoff shooting record, scored more points than the entire Hawks bench by himself and helped the team win the opening contest of a playoff series on the road for the first time in 15 tries in playoff history.
The Cavaliers secured a 97-89 victory in Atlanta Monday night as Smith provided the offensive lift the team was expecting when he was acquired from New York in a trade at the deadline.
A pair of free throws from LeBron James gave Cleveland a two point advantage with 3:27 remaining in the third quarter. Over the next seven minutes of play, that lead ballooned to 18 points as Smith caught fire.
Smith buried a pair of 3-pointers in just 26 seconds, then closed out the third quarter with a shot from 21 feet away, the only other time on the night he converted a shot inside of 3-point range since his jumper in the opening period.
The 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year opened the fourth quarter with another pair of 3-pointers, then drew enough attention from the Hawks defense that he faked another long range jumper, only to launch a lob pass that Tristan Thompson finished.
To close out a 22-4 run, Smith dropped another 3-pointer, this time from 25-feet away on the wing. The 29-year-old guard scored 17 points during the run, transforming a two point lead into an 18 point advantage.
The final long range shot from Smith was his eighth conversion from 3-point range, breaking a record held by James for the most 3-point field goals in a playoff game in Cavaliers franchise history.
Smith finished the game shooting 8-of-12 from 3-point range and scored 28 points, the only Cavaliers reserve to score a point in the contest.
The 28 points were seven more than the entire output of the Hawks bench.
Atlanta was dazed, but they weren’t knocked out of the game, even after losing DeMarre Carroll midway through the period.
Carroll drove to the basket, planted his left leg and immediately crumpled to the ground and grabbed at his left knee. Trainers had to help him off the floor, as he was unable to apply any pressure to his left leg.
After the game, he was diagnosed with a sprained knee and was on crutches. The 6-foot-8 forward will undergo an MRI on Thursday to provide an official diagnosis on the injury.
The loss of Carroll would be devastating, as he entered Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals as the leading scorer for the Hawks in the post season at 17.1 points per game. Atlanta was relying on Carroll to defend James for a majority of the time.
Without Carroll, the Hawks rallied as a jumper from Kent Bazemore with just under a minute remaining cut Cleveland’s lead down to four points.
James issued an immediate response, as he took an inbound pass, crossed Paul Millsap, sprinted towards the rim and sent an emphatic one-handed slam down on the next possession for the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers tacked on four free throws at the end of the game to move within three victories of the second NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.
James finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He also may have added some relief, as Cleveland was able to stage its biggest rally of the game with him on the bench for a majority of the run.
Seemingly each game, a different player has been able to contribute alongside James as Kyrie Irving deals with knee and foot issues.
This time it was at the lethal long range shooting of Smith that provided the difference.