CLEVELAND — Even after practice ended, J.R. Smith didn’t stop.
He jogged, sprinted and did everything possible to test his sore left hamstring. The Cavaliers starting guard spent the entire second half of Game 2 on the bench and doesn’t want to be there again if he can help it.
“I don’t like sitting out,” he said Wednesday. “Sat out enough.”
Smith is listed as questionable for Game 3 on Thursday night at Indianapolis as the Cavaliers look to take a 3-0 lead over the Indiana Pacers.
Smith, who hurt his leg at some point in the first half of Game 2, said he’ll “absolutely” be ready for Game 3. However, the Cavs aren’t willing to go that far just yet and will likely wait until game time before clearing him. Smith said an MRI “came back fine” and that treatment should help him heal.
If Smith can’t play, Iman Shumpert, who came off the bench to replace him Monday night and gave Cleveland a lift, likely will start. Shumpert stepped up after being benched in the series opener, a demotion that seemed inevitable after his late-season struggles and coach Tyronn Lue’s tightening of his rotation in the postseason.
Smith and Shumpert have swapped roles before. When Smith missed 36 games following thumb surgery, Shumpert filled in for the defending champs.
Shumpert limited Indiana star Paul George to just four points in the third quarter Monday when the Cavs built a 19-point lead. He also dropped a 3-pointer and gave Cleveland energy.
“He came in, played great defense, forced a couple turnovers, hit two big shots for us,” Smith said. “He stayed professional during the whole process, which is all you can ask because that’s a tough task to grasp. Starting at one point during the season when I was hurt and playing well, then not playing Game 1 and then not playing the first half and still able to go out there and perform, you’ve got to take your hat off to him.”
Lue has confidence that Shumpert, who made 31 starts during the regular season, will deliver if called upon again.
“It’s been our mentality all year — next man up — and Shump has been playing all year,” he said. “Just one game he didn’t play, so in a big game like the other night he was ready to play and ready to go in a big playoff game.”
As for Smith, the hamstring injury is just a blip in what has been a personally challenging season.
In January, Smith’s wife, Jewel, gave birth to their daughter five months prematurely. The baby remains in the hospital, but earlier this week Smith got to give her a bottle for the first time.
“She’s doing good,” he said. “We can’t complain. … We just have to take it day by day and hopefully one day soon she’ll come home.”
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