CLEVELAND – Rodney McGruder must not be as innocent as he looks.
For the second time in a week, McGruder was the central figure in a dustup, baiting Indiana’s Paul George into an ejection eight days ago and then having Cleveland’s J.R. Smith take exception to his dunk over Channing Frye late in Miami’s 120-91 manhandling of the short-handed Cavaliers on Saturday.
All of which doesn’t add up for Tyler Johnson.
“Rodney is a sweetheart,” Johnson said. “He’s got those eyelashes, he’s got those pretty eyes.”
The Cavaliers, specifically the injured Smith, found nothing sweet or pretty about McGruder’s play with 1:14 remaining in the game. Following the flush McGruder made contact with Frye, his right arm coming down on Frye’s back, a play that appeared totally unintentional.
Smith, in street clothes, shot out of his seat and expressed his displeasure.
“I was surprised with their reaction,” McGruder said. “I didn’t see any dirty play on that play.”
Said Heat guard Wayne Ellington: “Rod dunked on his guy. I guess he made a little contact after the dunk and J.R. took it to the next level.”
By the final buzzer, Udonis Haslem and Dion Waiters were in the middle of the scrum near the Cavaliers bench as Waiters and Smith hurled insults back and forth. Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving, who sat out the along with LeBron James to rest, shot back at Waiters. Heat security along with GM Andy Elisburg entered in an attempt to calm the situation and Smith was directed off the court by coach Tyronn Lue and the Cavs’ security staff.
“At that point, we were just trying to get out of here,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, adding that McGruder “is not going to show up anybody.”
If it was the actual dunk with the game under control that irked Smith, this is a team that has had no issues with throwing passes off the backboard for James to throw down late in blowout wins.
Fry attempted to downplay the incident, but while doing so was dismissive of the Heat.
“I guess there were some extracurriculars,” he told reporters. “Tempers flared. It is what it is. They won. Congrats. It’s all good.”
On the Heat’s performance, Fry said: “They shot the ball extremely well. Congratulations.”
And if that wasn’t enough, Cleveland’s Iman Shumpert chipped two teeth when he caught an elbow from Miami’s James Johnson, who received four stitches.
“Shumpert’s face got in my way and I elbowed him,” Johnson said.
Between the insults, physical play and Miami’s beat down, albeit against a very shorthanded Cleveland team, Monday’s 7 p.m. rematch at Quicken Loans Arena suddenly takes on more meaning than an early March game between the top team in the conference and the No. 9 seed.
If Cavaliers were looking for motivation during a long, sometimes humdrum season, they may have found it.
“I expect a strong pushback from them,” said Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
“It heats it up, no question,” Ellington said. “We like that. We like that challenge.”
Johnson, the second degree black belt, is not concerned.
“I don’t think anyone in this locker room is worried about what they’re planning for us,” he said.
James and Irving will return after sitting out the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday giving the Cavaliers much more firepower. In early December, with James, Irving and Kevin Love playing (Love remains out as he continues to recover from knee surgery), the Cavaliers handed Miami its most lopsided loss of the season, 114-84.
“The best player on earth is coming back in LeBron and you got a good point guard in Kyrie coming back,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “It’s definitely going to be a different game.”
The Cavs (42-19) were 2.5 games ahead of the Celtics entering Sunday and Miami (29-34) will enter 1.5 games behind Detroit for the final playoff spot in the East.
“They’re going to be ready. … especially at home,” Heat guard Goran Dragic said. “We blew them away. It’s a good challenge for us.”