OAKLAND, Calif. — Much of the talk about the Cavaliers during the NBA Finals focused on the supporting cast around the LeBron James-led Big Three — specifically the two other starters, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson. And a lot of the talk went something like, “Those other starters have stunk.”
Smith and Thompson had moments here and there. Smith scored 16 points in Game 3. Thompson, legend says, actually had a rebound or two.
But Smith and Thompson, during a head-turning, record-setting 49-point first quarter in Game 4, helped set the tone for what became a 137-116 rout that provided hope for Cleveland while preventing a Golden State sweep.
Smith scored 15 points, hitting five of the Cavs’ Finals-record 24 3-pointers.
“J.R.’s an assassin,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said.
Thompson was a Warriors target for three games. They kept him off the boards at all cost, and the Cavs paid the price. That changed.
“They’ve been doing a good job keying in, in terms of keeping me off the glass,” Thompson said. “For me it’s being active, using my quickness, using my feet, not so much muscle-to-muscle.”
So with quickness, feet and smarts, Thompson was huge.
“We just came out aggressive. Myself, I took my shots,” said Smith, who hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter. “Tristan came out and played extremely well.”
Thompson virtually had been negated in rebounding — he had 11 rebounds total entering Friday. In Game 4, he had 10, five in the first quarter when he was energy personified, rolling, catching, crashing. Who the heck was that guy?
“We know what’s at stake. It’s all or nothing so you have to leave it all out there and try to be active early. I wanted to set a tone for the game,” Thompson said.
Consider the game toned.
“He’s a great rebounder and physical player and he made an impact,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“Tristan was great. J.R.’s been great these last two games. These guys got us here, and I’m sticking with my guys, not going to change my lineup,” Lue said. “Tristan was big. J.R. was big. We have to bring the same intensity and the same effort into Golden State Monday [in Game 5].”
Smith came out firing. He hit the game’s first shot 16 seconds in, nailing a 3-pointer.
“We talked to him about trying to make plays,” Lue said, “like, ‘I need you to shoot the basketball and be a scorer.’ ”