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This is just what J.R. Smith does

The end-of-game gaffe in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals was peak J.R. Smith. It’s only fitting that moment happened.

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Six Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

J.R. Smith forgot the damn score in the final seconds of an NBA Finals game. Be clear on this: That is an insane, stupid, astonishing, jawdropping, space-assed* thing to do in any game. It is mad, eccentric, scatterbrained, daffy, erratic, vagarious, mental. It is ... it’s outright horse-minded that Smith forgot that the Cavs were tied, and sort of just invented a world where the Cavs were up?

I don’t even know what horse-minded is, because it is a term I just made up, but admit: it works. Horses are amazing, wild creatures that sometimes agree to play by human rules, and then sometimes very much do not. Would Smith seem sane for long stretches, and then bolt suddenly for no reason, or run back into a burning barn like horses sometimes do? Would Smith possibly mistake a plastic bag for a demon for no reason, like horses do, and then run the other direction screaming? Would a horse post NSFW things on Twitter in 2012 without really realizing that other people could see them? Forever?

If that horse were Smith-minded, then yeah, that horse would absolutely do all that. Erratic, sometimes brilliant, and sometimes absolutely incomprehensible is the Smith experience, and always has been. It has not changed, it will not change. It has always been the same. After the heat death of the universe, Smith will launch an escape pod along a contested trajectory through the smallest, most improbable wormhole imaginable to get to the next world.

For instance: During an epic cold streak in the 2007 playoffs with the Denver Nuggets, Smith was benched by George Karl for hoisting 50-footers on plays designed for Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson in the final minute of a game four loss to San Antonio. Karl’s quote at the time on Smith — averaging 4.3 points a game for the series at that point — might be downright haunting after tonight: “I have no idea what planet that came from.”

With the Knicks, Smith became a larger, more erratic version of his already large, erratic self. Erratic can tend towards the good, like when the Knicks made the playoffs in 2012-13 in part thanks to Smith averaging 18 points per game and winning Sixth Man of the Year. That season went so well that Smith’s one game suspension in the playoffs for elbowing Jason Terry in the jaw didn’t even matter. They beat them anyway before losing to the Indiana Pacers in the second round.

Erratic can also tend toward the bad. Smith got injured. He earned a suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy. He was, to put it lightly, a complete trainwreck on Twitter, even before being a trainwreck on Twitter was really a thing. I’m not going to look this up and will just state this as scientific fact: Smith was the first NBA player to pay a butt-related fine for social media activity. Someone took a photo of Smith drinking a bottle of Hennessy in a club the night before Game 5 against the Celtics in the 2013 playoffs. Smith scored 13 off the bench in a series-clinching win, by the way, because nothing about Smith will ever makes sense.

Smith allegedly missed 80 practices in a season when he played in China during the 2011 lockout. He once got a $50,000 fine for attempting to untie players’ shoes during games. That’s funny, but when things go badly for Smith, they can go badly in a very unfunny way, too. In 2007, Smith blew through a stop sign in New Jersey in his SUV and hit another car. He and a friend in the passenger seat — neither were wearing seatbelts — were both ejected from the car. Smith lived, but his friend didn’t. Smith narrowly avoided a vehicular manslaughter charge, and served 24 days in jail on a lesser charge.

Most pointedly given what just happened against Golden State: In 2014 in a tie game for the Knicks against Houston, Smith took a gigantic three. That would have been fine if there was no time on the clock, and it was the final shot in the game. It would have been fine if teammate Tyson Chandler wasn’t waving at Smith like a frenzied flag man trying to warn a train about a tanker truck full of gas stalled on the tracks ahead. Smith jacked a three-pointer with 21 seconds and change on the clock, it clanked off rim, and Houston would ice the game with free throws.

Smith, by his own admission, did not know the score in that game.

Smith has been with the Cavs since 2015. With the exception of throwing a bowl of soup at an assistant coach’s head earlier this year, there is an entire canon of stories all with the same basic theme: J.R. Smith has matured in Cleveland.

That’s true: LeBron James has become his steadying professional guide, and helped give him an NBA title. On a personal level, it’s demonstrably true, too. The entire cycle surrounding the premature birth of his daughter Dakota at just 21 weeks — followed by the tense touch-and-go story of her fight for survival — painted him accurately as a vulnerable, caring father figure. Even the most embittered Knicks fans still love Smith — not in spite of his mercurial NBA career and his flaws and bravado on the floor, but in large part because of it.

The brilliant, flaky core of Smith the basketball player hasn’t really changed, mostly because what you are as a player doesn’t really change for anyone.

It certainly didn’t change for Draymond Green, the best living goon the NBA has to offer, a practitioner of every one of the dark arts but most especially kicking opponents in the penis. When Game 1 heated up, Green’s response was to only became more essentially Draymond Green in the moment. He chucked awkward three-pointers with the exact motion of someone throwing a rotten pumpkin into a dumpster. He taunted Tristan Thompson into a technical and then danced on him and James while gesturing to the crowd. He galumphed into people to grab rebounds. (Green is 100 percent a galumpher.) He was a complete asshole at all times, because being a complete asshole capable of tearing an opponent apart at their weakest seams is Green’s job. He’s amazing at it, and as important a piece of the Warriors’ Death Machine as anyone.

J.R. Smith is amazing at being J.R. Smith, and being mad at him win or lose almost doesn’t make sense because you already know what can happen, good and bad. It could mean him being a part of the epic 3-1 comeback against the Warriors in 2016. It could mean him getting suspended for throwing a bowl of soup at an assistant coach.

It could mean him doing what he did in the final seconds of regulation: Bailing out George Hill and the Cavs by flying into traffic and unexpectedly grabbing a rebound off a missed free throw. It was exactly the kind of random, brilliant Smith thing to have happen. In a world where the Cavs were ahead by one, Smith would have given the Cavs a road playoff win.

The Cavs, however, were definitely not ahead by a point. They were tied, and would go on to lose in OT.

After the game, James was asked what Smith was thinking in the final seconds. His answer was only answer anyone in the building could have given after watching it happen. That possibly includes Smith himself, the player whose basketball fate has always been to be the least predictable thing on the floor. What at any time at all, really, is going through Smith’s mind during a basketball game?

James shook his head and answered.

I don’t know his state of mind.