Cavaliers' grieving guard plays on
Cleveland guard overcomes cousin's death to help secure eighth straight win
Not many in the Cleveland Cavaliers camp had expected J.R. Smith to play in their 113-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Hours before the game, the Cavaliers' guard learnt that a cousin whom he was close to had died after a house fire on Sunday.
Overcome with grief, the 32-year-old missed the team's morning shootaround before the game and returned to the team hotel.
Even just before the team took to the court at the Wells Fargo Center, he was still looking emotional. But he seemed a man transformed the moment he pulled on the Cavaliers' jersey.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue told cleveland.com that he was prepared to let Smith take the day off.
Said Lue: "I came up to him and said 'Listen, we don't expect nothing from you and if you can't go, you can't go. You understand?'
"And he said no, I want to play."
And play he did.
Despite air-balling his first shot, Smith racked up 11 points, three rebounds on four-of-six shooting and three three-pointers to help Cleveland notch their eighth straight win and improve to 13-7 on the season.
LeBron James tallied 30 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, while Dwyane Wade came off the bench to score 15 points.
Smith declined to speak to reporters after the game, but still stopped to pose for photos and sign autographs for Cavaliers fans.
The New Jersey native, who grew up about 80km away from Philadelphia, also stopped to speak to some friends.
Cavs forward Kevin Love said that Smith made a difference.
"He was very resilient," Love told ESPN.
"I mean, the fact that he came out and played... I can't begin to understand what he's going through.
"But maybe a form of escape was to be out here with guys that he felt like are family as well, and he came out and was a big difference-maker for us tonight.
"He played fluid. He played with a lot of joy and came out and made some big shots for us."
CARRY ON WITH LIFE
James said Smith's bereaved kin would have wanted him to carry on with his life.
"His family member would have wanted him to play tonight," James said.
"It's very unfortunate what happened. The kid is in a better place now and I guarantee he was looking down on J.R., giving him all the lift and all the strength to come out with his brothers and play tonight."
Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons ended Boston's eight-game home winning streak in a battle of the teams with the two-top records in the Eastern Conference.
Tobias Harris scored 31 points and Andre Drummond posted 26 points, a season-high 22 rebounds and six assists as the Pistons went on a late 13-3 run to put the game away.
In Oakland, the Sacramento Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic hit a driving banker over Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green with 12.6 seconds left to break a tie and lift the Kings to a 110-106 victory.
The Warriors, who were playing without the injured Stephen Curry (bruised right hand) and Kevin Durant (sprained left ankle), had led 106-102 before the Kings scored the game's last eight points over the final 3:08. - WIRE SERVICES
Indiana 121 Orlando 109, Boston 108 Detroit 118, NY Knicks 91 Portland 103, Houston 117 Brooklyn 103, San Antonio 115 Dallas 108, Golden State 106 Sacramento 110, LA Clippers 120 LA Lakers 115