Wednesday, June 19, 2019 Medina 62°


Guard awful: Cavaliers' struggling starting backcourt of J.R. Smith and George Hill know they have to be a lot better to beat Celtics


INDEPENDENCE — J.R. Smith is a shooting guard who had more flagrant fouls than points in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.

George Hill is a point guard who has one assist in 61 minutes over the first two games of the series.

Both know they have to give four-time league MVP LeBron James a lot more help when the Cavaliers, down 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, host the Boston Celtics in Game 3 Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at The Q.

“We’ve got to ramp it up,” Smith said Thursday following practice. “We’re playing too slow. We’re making Bron play hero ball, which is tough to do, especially in the Eastern Conference finals. We’ve got to help him.

“With that said, we’ve got to make him feel confident to give us the ball so we can make the right plays. We’ve got to help him and he’s got to help us.”

James, who had just 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting in a 108-83 loss in Game 1, certainly did his part with 42 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in Game 2, but the Cavs still lost 107-94.

A large chunk of the blame for that can be placed on Smith and Hill, who were outscored 41-3 by Celtics counterparts Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

“We’ve just got to make shots,” Smith said. “That’s the only thing we can do. Obviously, we can do more on the defensive side, but our main focus right now is to make shots.

“Right now, LeBron is having to work overly hard to carry us. We’ve just got to do our job.”

Through two games, Smith is 2-for-16 from the field and 0-for-7 on 3-pointers, including 0-for-7 and 0-for-4 in a scoreless Game 2, when he picked up a flagrant foul for pushing Al Horford that completely swung momentum Boston’s way.

For the series, the mercurial shooting guard has four points, four rebounds, two assists and at least a half-dozen blown defensive assignments in 56 minutes while getting completely outplayed by Brown, who has 46 points, 15 boards and four assists in 64 minutes.

“He’s not really getting a lot of rhythm shots,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said of Smith. “They’re doing a good job of getting to him, getting to him in transition. We’ve got to find ways to keep him getting shots and being aggressive.”

Hill, who missed three games in the first round against Indiana due to back spasms, hasn’t been much better.

After getting wide acclaim for his play in a second-round sweep of Toronto — he averaged 10.3 points and finished the series with games of 13, 12 and 12 points — the 32-year-old has eight points, two boards and one assist in two games against the Celtics.

By comparison, Boston’s Rozier has 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in 70 minutes — or just nine more than Hill.

“He just needs to play with more pace, miss or make, get the ball up fast,” Lue said of his point guard. “He’ll be fine.”

Unlike Smith, whose poor play has been glaringly obvious, Hill has been largely invisible vs. Boston. He’s attempted just eight shots, making three.

“I’ve just got to be more assertive,” the veteran said. “I’ve got to play with that edge, like I did in that second series and things like that. There’s no one to blame but myself.

“Right now, I’m not playing the game the right way. I’ve got to continue to watch film, work on my craft and come out with a whole different mindset in Game 3.”

A solid ballhandler but not really a prototype point guard — he frequently brings the ball up the floor but rarely runs the offense — Hill is of the belief he may have to become a bit more selfish when it comes to scoring.

“I’m trying to figure it out myself,” he said. “A little bit is trying to be more involved offensively, not wait until a play is possibly called and things like that.”

If some playmaking for his teammates is also involved, that would be better still.

Through two games, James has 21 assists in 75 minutes. The rest of the team has 15 in 405. In Game 2 it was even more glaring, as Kevin Love had two assists and Hill, Smith, Jeff Green and Rodney Hood had one apiece.

“Right now we’ve got our backs against the wall, but it’s no time for panic,” Hill said. “Boston did what they were supposed to do: Take care of home-court advantage.

“We have a great opportunity to do the same thing here. We’ve got to rally together, play better at both ends of the floor and try to figure it out.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.

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