Smith gaffe lowlight blunder of the week

No leading with the head when you’re making a play on defense, Clay Matthews. That includes the schnoz.

Jokes aside about Matthews’ having a good nose for the ball, the Green Bay Packers linebacker will undergo surgery to repair the broken nose he suffered last week at a charity softball game.

Matthews, who was on the mound for the slow-pitch event, later went on social media to thank fans for their concern and get-well wishes, adding thanks that the injury wasn’t worse.

He can say that again. A little higher and an inch to the left or right and he’s not seeing very clearly anymore.

Twenty-twenty hindsight questions why he was out there in the first place. A softball pitcher lobbing underhand to a hitter 50 feet away is a sitting duck. Injuries to football players during football season are bad enough.

Matthews’ fractured beak isn’t enough to scrap the charity softball game, but maybe it’s time to re-think the lineup card. Matthews and Davante Adams — the other Packer headlining the charity event — should consider the merits of shortstop, or center field.

Allowing Matthews to be put in that position may not have been the smartest move, but it was nothing compared to the brain cramp at the NBA Finals. In one bizarre moment of confusion, Cleveland’s J.R. Smith snoozed when opportunity knocked, and most likely closed the door on the Cavaliers’ tiny hopes of knocking off Golden State.

With less than five seconds remaining in regulation and the score tied, a missed free throw by Cleveland’s George Hill took a lucky bounce for the Cavs, falling directly to Smith at a trajectory that gave him inside position and a clear path for an easy put-back bucket.

Instead, believing his team was ahead by a point, Smith turned away from the basket and dribbled out the clock. Cleveland, which was a 12-point underdog — the biggest point spread in an NBA Finals game since 2001 — was finished. A huge upset win in Game 1 turned onto one of the toughest losses in franchise history. Beaten soundly in the overtime, the deflated Cavaliers’ body language suggested that it was all over.

It wasn’t the first walk in the fog for Smith. This is the guy who left the court during a game to say hello to an opponent on the bench while his man was scoring an uncontested two points. He says he doesn’t remember that incident, which after his Game 1 space-out isn’t surprising.

His teammate, LeBron James, has been playing the best ball of his surpassing, 15-year career. His level of domination throughout this postseason has generated talk about whether he is the greatest player ever.

Former Chicago guard Michael Jordan has been the unofficial holder of that title, but in the wake of the eye-popping efforts that the taller, stronger James has spearheaded in leading Cleveland to this year’s Finals against Golden State — James’ seventh straight trip to the Finals and eighth overall — there has been serious re-consideration of his place on the all-time ladder.

However, Jordan’s teams went 6-0 in the Finals; James’ Finals record is 3-5, with an almost certain 3-6 just around the corner. Another finals win over Golden State would have lifted James’ already sparkling legacy. Two years ago he led the Cavaliers to a win over a Warriors team that had posted the best regular-season record of all time.

James’ contracts are structured one year at a time, giving him an annual option to re-up with the Cavs or seek greener pastures. He has made enough money to support his family for generations. What matters to him at this stage of his career is winning championships. Taken to task for not being more of a leader in the huddle following Smith’s Game 1 mess-up, an exasperated James hinted about the likelihood of his staying in Cleveland with this rhetorical musing: “How much more picking up of teammates do you want me to do?”

In other words, Cavaliers fans, it’s been real. Real disappointing. It’s hard to pull off the improbable when one of your teammates is sleepwalking. With James soon gone, the 2018 playoffs will be recalled in Cleveland as the not-so-good old daze.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@wolfrivermedia.com.