INDEPENDENCE, Ohio— J.R. Smith‘s return from suspension was, ahem, soup-er. For one half.
Smith scored all 19 of his points in the second half Saturday, but the struggling Cavaliers couldn’t stop Denver’s long-range shooting attack in a 126-117 loss to the Nuggets.
Much like his season, Smith’s comeback after he was benched by Cleveland for throwing a bowl of soup at Cavs assistant coach Damon Jones was strange. One of the NBA’s least bashful shooters, Smith did not attempt a shot in the first half.
But he let loose after halftime, making 7 of 8 shots before missing his last four.
“In the second half I just figured to hell with it, just be more aggressive,” Smith said. “If they double me, try to get around them and then make a play. Just a different mindset, I guess.”
It’s been an interesting 72 hours for Smith, who did not reveal his soup choice or the ingredients that steamed him so much he threw his soup at Jones following Thursday’s shootaround.
He sat out that night’s game against the 76ers, adding another dramatic twist to what has been a tumultuous season for the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions.
Asked before the Cavs fell to the Nuggets what he could share about the soup spat, Smith was as cold as gazpacho.
“Nothing,” he said.
And as for the kind of soup he flung?
“Honestly,” he said Saturday following the team’s shootaround. “I don’t even remember.”
Smith refused to say if he agreed with the discipline. He said he spoke with his teammates about what happened but not with Jones, a former NBA player who has been on Tyronn Lue’s staff for two seasons.
“It’s not really my call,” the 31-year-old said on the merits of his punishment. “More than anything, I talked to my teammates about it, everybody seemed cool. We moved on from it as a team, so whether it warranted a suspension or not, that’s not my job. I’m just here to play basketball.”
Because of Smith’s volatile reputation and shoot-first-ask-questions later playing style, his soup-throwing tantrum led to a social-media storm Friday as Twitter filled with posts about him and his possible soup choice.
Smith was amused — to a point.
“Some of them were actually pretty funny,” he said. “I understand that everything I do is going to have a meme or whatever behind it. That’s just part of the day and age we live in. If this was 15 years ago, nobody would have even knew. It’s just part of the game.”
Smith’s had a challenging season on the floor — his 8.3 point average is his lowest since 2005 and he’s making only 39 percent his shots — and his blowup at Jones could be the result of pent-up frustration.
Smith, though, dodged a question about whether it was spur of the moment or something that had been building.
“I have an idea of what I want to say, but I’m not going to say it,” he said.” So I’m going to leave that as it is.”
Smith has been a key contributor to Cleveland reaching the NBA Finals the past three seasons. With All-Star Kevin Love sidelined with a broken hand, the Cavs need a dependable second scoring option behind LeBron James. Smith can fill that role — when his shot is falling and when he’s behaving.
James believes Smith will come around.
“He knows how important he is to our ball club, both offensively and defensively since he got here,” James said. “We know it’s been a challenging year for him, but we expect for him to be there when we need him.”
James is close with both Smith and Jones, but he refused to get dragged into their food feud.
“Ain’t got nothing to do with me,” he said. “Momma told me a long time ago to mind your business. Stay out of grown folks business. That ain’t got nothing to do with me. That’s what I did.”