New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith has desperately been trying to shoot his team into the playoffs, in the one way he loves to do the most — without a conscience, from just about anywhere in the frontcourt.
For a while, he was having success with that approach, to the tune of the Knicks’ recent 12-3 stretch that helped New York take a brief lead (by .002 percentage points) over the Atlanta Hawks in race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
But the ironic thing about Smith’s late-season resurgence and his ability to once again, finally give franchise player Carmelo Anthony the complement he needed, is that while Smith remains ultra-hot from long range, the Knicks’ playoff push seems to be ending with Anthony too hurt to be able to compete the way New York needs him to.
All season long, Anthony, having arguably his best season during a distinguished 11-year NBA career, desperately needed some offensive help so he wouldn’t have to carry an inordinate amount of the Knicks’ scoring load himself.
Smith, last year’s Sixth Man of the Year, was still the best option to be Anthony’s sidekick, even though each of them have needed additional contributions from others that have been added on too much of an inconsistent basis for New York to come anywhere close to defending the Atlantic Division title it won last year.
Even Smith took too long to get going.
He missed the Knicks’ first five games of the season due to a drug-related suspension and was largely inconsistent for the better part of the season until he played a significant role in putting New York right on Atlanta’s heels.
But as Smith has gone on a record-setting 3-point barrage in duplicating his season high of 32 points over each of his past two games, Anthony, while playing with an injured right shoulder, has failed to reach his per-game scoring average of 27.5 points over those two contests combined. Anthony scored a total of just 23 points on 29 percent (9-for-31) shooting in those games.
And despite Smith’s exploits, which included a team-record 10 made 3s on an NBA-record 22 3-point attempts in Miami on Sunday, all of that shooting and scoring didn’t translate to wins.
As a result, the Hawks are closing in on securing the playoff spot that the Knicks covet, with a magic number of just three. With Atlanta hosting Detroit and Boston this week, there’s a good chance that number could be down to only one by the time New York plays its next game at division-leading Toronto, on Friday night.
Although going back further, Smith has converted at a blistering 45-percent clip from 3-point range will making 27 treys over his past four games, the erratic and enigmatic guard has remarkably taken 60 3-pointers while attempting no free throws over those contests, and has thus failed to attack and create for his teammates, while failing to get opponents in foul trouble.
It’s nice that Smith finally got focused enough down the stretch to get the Knicks back in the race. But Anthony and New York needed that much earlier, when the Knicks still had plenty of time to save their season.
With the Hawks on the brink of clinching, Smith can set all of the 3-point shooting records he wants, and it won’t matter. The time for him to provide help for the Knicks was months ago, long before he had to try to bail them out.