A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream. The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks: "How do I know you will not sting me?"
The scorpion stroked his thin beard with his stinger and replied: "I dunno man. Shooters shoot. You gonna take me across this river or stream or whatever?"
J.R. Smith could not be stopped in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He had all 28 of the Cavaliers' bench points, including eight threes, the most in Cleveland playoff history. Each was critical. He and LeBron James handled the vast majority of the scoring load in a game that was close until the fourth quarter.
The Hawks shouldn't feel bad about Smith's performance. There was a hand in his face on almost every shot he took, sometimes several hands. But Swish wouldn't stop swishing:
You can never ask J.R. Smith not to be J.R. Smith.
You wouldn't ask the songbird not to sing, even if it is 4 a.m. and you're trying to sleep. And wait, doesn't the songbird have to be at shootaround at 11 a.m. tomorrow? The songbird sings, because it is a songbird. It is beautiful.
You wouldn't ask the cheetah not to hunt. Even if it just ate a gazelle yesterday, and -- are those baby gazelles? Oh, come on, cheetah, do you have to eat those baby gazelles? They're so cute, and not even that meaty! This doesn't even help you that much! Oh well. I guess you're a cheetah and you're going to eat those baby gazelles.
You wouldn't ask the salmon not to do that thing where they swim upstream and spawn and die. Come on, salmon! A ton of you are gonna get eaten super-easily by bears and the rest of you are gonna die of exhaustion. Dude, lay your eggs and stuff in the sea! You won't have a 100 percent chance of death! But the salmon doesn't do this, because it is the salmon. It lives this way and it dies this way.
And you can't ask J.R. Smith not to be J.R. Smith.
Many NBA players do dumb things, because NBA players are people and people do dumb things. Most of them get fined or reprimanded and never do it again.
J.R. Smith does dumb things, because J.R. Smith is a person, and people do dumb things. But unlike everybody else, when he does dumb things and costs himself large amounts of money, he does them again. He is a habitual line-stepper.
He got fined $25,000 after posting a picture of a famous lady's butt. Later, he got caught asking a girl if she wanted the pipe. He earned a reputation for drinking and clubbing when he shouldn't, then got caught drinking and clubbing when he shouldn't too many times to count. He got caught untying a guy's shoes in a game ... AND THEN UNTIED SOMEBODY ELSE'S SHOES IN A GAME, earning a $50,000 fine.
Many NBA players take bad shots. Most NBA players soon realize they can't take bad shots. Bad shots miss a lot. They hurt the team, they hurt your stats, and in the long run, they hurt you, the NBA player, who nobody wants to pay because they take a lot of bad shots.
J.R. Smith also never realized this, but for a different reason. J.R. Smith takes some of the worst shots of any NBA player. He always has, he always will. He takes long-distance shots under heavy defense. He takes long-distance shots off-balance. He takes long-distance shots out of the flow of the offense. He takes long twos instead of slightly longer threes.
After Wednesday night, he said he *prefers* these shots:
J.R. Smith: "I'd rather take a contested shot than an open shot any day ... It's kind of boring when you take open shots"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 21, 2015
He hasn't stopped doing it, and he never will, because he is great at these stupid idiot shots. Sure, sometimes his stupid idiot shots clang away. Sometimes he clangs often enough that he genuinely hurts teams. But most of the time, he hits his bad shots at a good enough rate that it pays to have him.
Sometimes, magic happens. Smith can spend games doing everything wrong and ruining opponents doing everything right. And it happens often enough that you have to live with the bad nights.
J.R. Smith might have a reputation as freewheeling dummy on and off the court, but that hides the fact that he has repeatedly been a solid contributor on very good teams. He was the third-leading scorer on a Nuggets team that got to the 2009 conference finals. He played the most minutes on the 2013 Knicks, who won 54 games and got a No. 2 seed. (I SWEAR, THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED.) And you're watching him now on a Cavaliers team that might very well win the NBA title.
And how did those teams harness J.R., taking his goofy instincts and molding him into a model of smart basketball and efficiency? They actively didn't. J.R. hoisted a team-high 5.6 threes per game off the bench for that Nuggets team despite coming off the bench. That Knicks team made its name launching threes, actually setting the NBA record for most attempted and most made in a season, in large part because of Smith's complete lack of conscience.
A motif of Smith's time in Cleveland is an insistence from all parties that he is a changed man. The nightlife of New York is gone, so he's said that he's mellowed out and spent his time playing video games and focusing on basketball instead of drinking. LeBron James has said that he's taken Smith under his wing as his "life coach," with the implication that the superstar with championship rings and MVP trophies and endorsement deals has told him the partying has to stop. Smith himself spoke after the game Wednesday night about his changed reputation.
I don't know if Smith is still clubbing or hitting on e-randos. He insists he isn't, but we can never know. What I do know is that the man I saw drilling threes on that court Wednesday night was J.R. Smith. Not some skim milk J.R. It was Hennessy J.R.
For his whole life, whenever J.R. Smith has fallen asleep and his alcohol-infused brain dreamed sweet dreamy dreams, those were the shots he dreamed of hitting.
When you pay J.R. Smith to play basketball for your basketball team, you have to accept that J.R. will take these shots because of nights like Wednesday. You have to live with all the other J.R. stuff. Because, honestly, it's worth it.
J.R. Smith might very soon be a world champion. All Cleveland has to do to make that happen is get through the bad J.R. Smith things so all the spectacular J.R. Smith things actually happen.
SB Nation presents: The 3-pointer has gone from novelty to necessary