J.R. Smith’s thumb didn’t fall off Thursday night.
And then on Saturday, he knocked down three 3-pointers in the Cavs’ 116-104 win over the Orlando Magic.
Or take Deron Williams. He scored 10 points and logged 25 minutes in the best of his six games as a Cavalier.
See, this bus is moving in the right direction.
After four losses in five games to begin the month, the Cavs were looking for victories of any kind Saturday in Disney. They got the one that counts the most, of course, and a glimpse of what can be when all their “pieces” are fully integrated.
Smith played his second game since having a plate and eight screws inserted to fix a broken thumb in December. He scored 11 points and shot 4-of-8 from the field.
In his first game, a loss to the Pistons, he was 1-of-9 (1-of-8 from 3-point). But something maybe more important happened. He banged his surgically repaired right thumb trying to swipe the ball from Stanley Johnson, which is how he broke it by taking a swipe at the ball in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s hands back on Dec. 20.
“I thought my thumb was going to fall off, but fortunately it didn’t,” Smith said. “I needed that just so I could cope with it. So I’m glad it happened the first game opposed to like the third or fourth game hitting it and then not knowing how to react.”
Smith’s shots didn’t start falling because his thumb remained attached to his hand in Detroit. Then again, on this team, that really is saying something.
Cavs players have missed more than 100 games due to injury this season, including Smith. Kevin Love is still out, and now Kyle Korver has a foot issue. Andrew Bogut lasted for 58 seconds.
Even before Smith broke his thumb, he wasn’t having the kind of season either he or the Cavs envisioned when he signed a new contract for up to four years and $57 million just before the start of the season.
Watching the ball spring from his fingertips and dart toward the net is a good feeling for an organization that assembled all these championship-caliber players, and hasn’t really gotten to see them all together.
That’s why earlier Saturday, James said this was “one of the strangest” seasons of his 14-year career.
“We’ve just got to get everybody on the same page,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “It’s going to be a process. They’ve got to understand that. Getting J.R. back tonight making some shots and being who he is was good to see. We still have a lot of pieces we’ve got to plug in. It’s going to take a little time, there’s going to be some ups and downs during this but we still have to stay strong, be who we are.”
Talk about progress, Channing Frye said Saturday he noticed some footage of himself shooting on the Cavs’ website and saw his right elbow was out. He’s fixed it, and over his last five games is 14-of-25 from 3-point range.
Williams has scored 10 points and played 25 or more minutes for the Cavs before. But on none of those previous occasions did he do it as efficiently as he performed against the Magic.
He was 4-of-9 shooting from the field with four assists, no turnovers, and a plus/minus of plus-10.
Signed as a free agent Feb. 27, Williams played 24 minutes in his first game for Cleveland March 1 in Boston. He missed what could’ve been a game-winning three and shot 2-of-8, but it was his first on-court action in weeks because he hadn’t played since before the All-Star break.
Then they shoved him out there for a back-to-back on March 3 and 4 against the Hawks and Heat, including a start in Miami in which he was 4-of-11 shooting (for 10 points) with two turnovers in 27 minutes. Lue played him 17 minutes in each of the last two games so Williams could get his legs back under him.
“He was great (Saturday),” Lue said. “Starting to get his legs. His passes are right on time every single time when to make the pass, the right pass, the right play. That’s just who he is. Now starting to shoot the basketball well, taking his shots and he’s coming along really well.”
One good night from Smith and Williams against a team the Cavs have now beaten 16 times in a row does not mean either player has arrived.
As long as they’re on their way, the Cavs will take it.
“Yeah, we got some great possibilities,” James said.