On a Cavaliers team relatively light on playoff experience, J.R. Smith is something of a postseason veteran. Whereas Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have famously never made the NBA playoffs — the same goes for Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova, albeit less famously — Smith has played in 51 career playoff games between his time with the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks. His deepest run came in 2009, when the Nuggets were dispatched in six games by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
The point is, Smith has been in the league for a while. He’s tasted the playoffs. And he thinks this Cavs team has what it takes to go all the way.
In a first-person essay for The Cauldron, a sports-minded segment of Medium.com, Smith discussed his move from the bottom-feeding Knicks to the title-contending Cavs. He touched on a variety of topics — including the differences in Cleveland and New York nightlife — but much of the article focused on his new teammates and how life is different on a winning team.
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Smith helped the Cavs top the 50-win mark in the regular season. Now what?
"As for what comes next in Cleveland, I will make it real simple for you: If we continue to play the way we have been playing, I don’t think anyone can beat us."
Smith heaped praise upon the Cavs, particularly LeBron James, Irving and Love. He took the high road when talking about the woebegone Knicks (“It just wasn’t meant to be”), but made it clear that Cleveland’s winning culture has been a welcome change. He paints a picture of a Cavs team that has grown close in a short time, one that follows the examples set by its leaders and one that can feel itself getting better with each passing game.
"On a winning team, you feed off one another and you become so engrossed in the team life, you find yourself learning from and emulating everyone. It’s not just LeBron, Kyrie and Love, either. On the Cavs, it’s veterans like Mike Miller and James Jones, too.
"Now that the playoffs are here, people are going to discover that our greatest strength is that we play for one another. We willingly share our knowledge with one another so that collectively, the team becomes even stronger. It happens in practice, it happens on the floor during games, and it even happens from the bench."
Other topics Smith addresses include comparing LeBron and Carmelo Anthony (“Carmelo Anthony is not LeBron James. And LeBron James is not Carmelo Anthony. Period.”), what it’s like playing alongside Irving (“Everything Kyrie does is amazing; he’s just a ridiculous player.”) and how Love manages despite limited athleticism (“Kevin is like that guy you see in a 40-and-up league just killing it because he knows the game better than anyone else out there.”).
The whole thing is worth a read, for Smith’s discussion of off-court life and public perception as much as anything else. He speaks of the shock that came with being traded, the difficulty of leaving longtime teammates and dealing with the notion that he is “some kind of NBA rock star guy.”
More of these first-person essays seem to be coming out every day, and they provide a glimpse into pro athletes’ psyches unlikely to come from a locker room media scrum. Smith’s article comes off as something of a feel-good story, especially if you grew weary of the silly narratives surrounding the Cavs all season long. Give it a look.