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NBA Finals 2018: Jordan Clarkson Needs to Play Smarter

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When the NBA Finals tipped off Thursday night, the Cavaliers, despite their underdog status, had hope for stealing game one. The game was tied at halftime, and the Warriors made runs in the second half to distance themselves. But the Cavaliers kept themselves in the game. With 58.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter, LeBron James scored off a driving layup to give Cleveland a 106-104 lead.

It was the last lead the Cavaliers held before ultimately losing 124-114 in overtime.

Making J.R. Smith the scapegoat for Cleveland’s loss is easy and understandable; he rebounded George Hill’s missed free throw with 4.5 seconds left and the game tied at 107 and simply held on to the ball, only passing the ball when it was too late to get off a shot. It’s fair to be upset with him, as he should have made a play to get the Cavaliers the lead. But don’t forget about George Hill missing his second free throw, which would’ve given them the 108-107 lead over Golden State.

More so, don’t forget about Jordan Clarkson’s terrible performance.

Clarkson easily had the worst performance of any player in game one. He played 17 minutes, posting four points, three rebounds, one steal and one block. Such a stat line isn’t great but wouldn’t be horrid if it weren’t for the fact he shot 2-of-9 from the field.

He missed open jumpers, 3-pointers, and even drives to the basket. Clarkson was one of the first guys off the bench, so for one of the Cavaliers’ primary bench players to perform in such a manner in unacceptable — especially in an NBA Finals.

Given his performance, it’s no wonder the narrative that “James needs help” won’t die.

It’s not that James didn’t have any help Thursday night, though; he had a fair amount of help. After missing game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals because of a concussion, Kevin Love returned from with a double-double of 21 points and 13 rebounds. Smith added 10 points and six rebounds, and Larry Nance Jr. flirted with a double-double of nine points and 11 rebounds off the bench. Hill and George each added seven points. But even considering such help, it still wasn’t enough.

James scored 51 points, a new Finals career-best, and that wasn’t enough to give his team the win. And, even as impressive as that is, no one wants for one player to have to carry such a load.

If Clarkson had made just one more of his field goal attempts, the Cavaliers would have won in regulation and be up 1-0 in the Finals. One more make and Clarkson would’ve connected on a third of his shots. Such a shooting percentage isn’t even good, so it’s not like it’s unreasonable for him to have been a little better.

It’s not like Clarkson’s not a capable, proven scorer either. In the 28 regular season games he played with the Cavaliers, he averaged 12.6 points in 22.6 minutes while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 40.7 percent on 3-pointers. The playoffs, however, are a different story.

Before the Finals, Clarkson was averaging 4.9 points on 30.9 percent overall and 25.6 percent on 3-pointers. Considering this is his first-ever NBA playoffs and he has made it as far as one can in the postseason before winning it all, some of these struggles are understandable. But he’s playing on the biggest stage in basketball and has been through three playoff series already. Clarkson has be a quick learner and smarter basketball player if he’s going to succeed in this league — if the Cavaliers are going to win a championship.

But it’s not just that he shot poorly, though. Some of the shots he missed were a result of his poor decision making. Clarkson often held on to the ball and tried to force plays instead of creating plays for others when he didn’t have good opportunities. He has the ability to play both guard positions, and he should use that to his advantage. So if he doesn’t have a good look at a shot or isn’t in a good situation to create his own shot, he needs to pass the ball and make opportunities for others.

If he does, he can become an effective bench player, actually help James, and be a factor in the Cavaliers’ championship run.

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