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Smith admits blunder, vows tighter focus for NBA Finals

Smith squandered a final chance at a regulation-time Cleveland victory in a game Golden State won 124-114 in overtime on Thursday.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (right) shoots the basketball next to guard JR Smith (left) during NBA Finals media day at Oracle Arena.(Reuters/USA Today pic)

OAKLAND: Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith confessed to cluelessness Saturday in his botched rebound play in the NBA Finals opener, promising a tighter focus in Sunday’s crucial second game.

Smith squandered a final chance at a regulation-time Cleveland victory in a game Golden State won 124-114 in overtime on Thursday.

An exasperated glance at Smith from teammate LeBron James became a social media sensation.

Smith rebounded teammate George Hill’s missed free throw with 4.5 seconds to play in regulation and the score deadlocked at 107-107. He dribbled away from the basket, as if running off the final seconds of what he thought was a victory.

In video replays, Smith appeared to tell a stunned James, whose 51 points were the most in NBA Finals history for a losing team, that he thought the Cavs were leading and coach Tyronn Lue said as much after the game.

“The video where I said I thought we were ahead? I might have said that,” Smith said. “I’m not sure, but I might have.

“Plenty of things ran though my mind.”

Smith said after the game that he knew the game was tied and was trying to move away from Warriors forward Kevin Durant for a better shot, but dribbed well beyond that point and passed off before the final buzzer.

“After thinking about it a lot the last 24 hours or however many since the game was over, I can’t say I was sure of anything at that point,” Smith said.

He can be sure, however, that the Cavaliers cannot afford such errors in game two if they hope to send the series back to Cleveland next week level at 1-1.

“A few plays happened and we kind of lost our heads at the end, so we’ve got to stay locked in the whole game,” Smith said. “I’m ready to go.”

The Cavaliers came to Smith’s emotional rescue.

“My teammates have been great,” Smith said. “Everybody says it’s not just the one play that is the reason why we lost. They’re very supportive. Got a lot of good feedback.”

– Smith is resilient –

James didn’t talk with Smith but praised him Saturday and said he’s confident Smith will bounce back.

“I don’t think I need to say anything to J.R. I’ve known J.R. since he was in high school. J.R. knows what I expect out of him,” James said. “J.R. is one of the most resilient guys I’ve ever been around. He probably took that loss as hard as anybody on the team.

“But one thing about J.R., he has an uncanny ability to bounce back. People have seen that throughout our post-season runs, where he hasn’t played well or played to his ability that he thinks he should have played, and then the next game he comes on and shoots the ball extremely well.”

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said resiliency is among Smith’s strengths.

“J.R. is always going to be in a light mood,” Love said. “The best thing he can do is just go out there and be himself. We’re going to get, I would imagine, a great effort out of him tomorrow.”

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