J.R. Smith stood at mid-court prior to Tuesday’s game against the Boston Celtics waiting to accept his trophy for Sixth Man of the Year, for a fleeting second it appeared as if Smith was overwhelmed by the moment – surprising for a guy that has well over 100 tattoos adorning his torso, and enough confidence to continue taking shots even if he’s having an off shooting night. Who could blame him though?
Smith has come a long way from his days with New Orleans and Denver, and yes, even his first season with the Knicks when he was in the New York tabloids more for his extra-curricular activity, than his play on court. But his talent has always been undeniable, and now finally, his play is becoming ever more crucial to the Knicks chances of progressing deep into the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Smith admitted after the game that he got emotional hearing the ovation from The Garden faithful.
“It was like an out-of-body feeling,” said Smith. “I never really thought I’d get a standing ovation at The Garden the way I did. It was great, I love the fans here, [love] The Garden. It’s so easy and fun to play here. You play bad basketball, they’re [the fans] are going to let you know.”
Smith shot out of the gates once he was inserted into the game by Mike Woodson with 8:24 left in the first quarter. For a guy who sulked preseason about continuing to come off the bench this season, Smith has embraced the role – and flourished – since then.
“I’ve gotten over that situation,” Smith said. “There’s a reason why guys are out there on the floor, a reason why Coach Woodson is doing what he’s doing. It’s been effective. If we were losing, I’m sure it would be a different story, but we’re playing great right now, so I can’t complain.”
On Tuesday, as Carmelo Anthony was just 2/6 from the field in the first quarter, it was Smith who injected offense from the bench. He was 4/4, including two late quarter buckets that had MSG rocking like it was 1994 all over again. Smith hit a 21′ foot fade-away to put the Knicks up 23-20, then raced back down court and stepped in front of Pierce, forcing Pierce into a turnover.
Immediately from the ensuing in-bounds pass Smith hoisted a 36′ foot shot that was almost nothing but net.
Smith, often referred to as ‘mercurial’, ended the night with 19 points, on 7/15 shooting, the kind of corralled offense the team will require of him on the nights that Anthony doesn’t have it going, or is slow to start.
After the game Kenyon Martin, a former teammate of Smith’s at Denver, acknowledged the contribution that Smith has made offensively.
“He needs to play like that all the time,” said Martin. “It’s a great feeling to have the Sixth Man of the Year on your team. That’s the way we need him to play at all times, not just tonight. We need him to be on his game in order for us to be successful.”
The Knicks are winning and everybody is happy. If they keep this up, then perhaps Smith might be lifting another trophy come June.