Despite staring at a 2-0 deficit following a pair of blowout losses, the Cleveland Cavaliers are sticking with their starting lineup.
Coach Tyronn Lue announced Tuesday that JR Smith will continue to start at shooting guard in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. McMenamin previously reported Lue was considering benching Smith in favor of Iman Shumpert.
Smith has scored just three points in the series’ first two games. He was held scoreless during his 14 minutes of playing time in Game 2, taking just two shots and seeming woefully out of rhythm.
Shumpert played 22 minutes by comparison despite dealing with cramping issues. It was just the fourth time all postseason that Shumpert played more minutes than Smith.
The Golden State Warriors have pulled out to a 2-0 series lead, putting up a plus-41 point differential. Cleveland wouldn’t have been able to win either of the first two games with Shumpert in Smith’s place, but a shakeup might have had some positive effect.
Shumpert is a superior on-ball defender to Smith, who has improved in Cleveland but remains inconsistent. Lue highlighted defensive improvement as being paramount to the Cavs’ having a chance Wednesday night.
“I think that having awareness, can’t relax, can’t fall asleep,” Lue told reporters. “This team, their offense is constant movement, so you got to be locked in. You can’t take a peek somewhere else and lose your man. So they make you pay. And they have a lot of guys who are great passers, so you got to be alert at all times.”
Shumpert has done next to nothing on the offensive end for these playoffs, but he can be solid on the ball and looked inspired on that end in parts of Game 2.
Keeping Smith in the starting lineup might be Lue’s way of giving his struggling guard a vote of confidence. Nothing stops Lue from giving Shumpert the lion’s share of minutes at the 2 if Smith still can’t find his stroke.