By John Schmeelk
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John Starks remains one of the Knicks’ all-time favorites, and now fans are coming to love another player: J.R. Smith.
Smith is Starks. I (and others, like Alan Hahn) have been saying it since last year, but it became crystal clear Wednesday night.
Within moments, Smith can go from making fans pull their out their hair to making them jump up and down in joy. His shot selection and decision-making will drive anyone nuts, but he’ll also come up with that one spectacular, game-winning play. They’re so alike, maybe Smith could head-butt player-turned-broadcaster Reggie Miller.
More than anything, much like Starks, Smith has a ton of confidence. He thinks every shot will go in. There’s no fear of taking big shots in crunch time. It’s an invaluable — yet dangerous — mindset.
Smith was on display in all his glory against the Bobcats on Wednesday night. Through three quarters he was just 4 of 13 from the field, and a brutal 0 of 7 from three-point land. The poor shooting wouldn’t deter him, and he just kept firing shot after shot despite the fact none from the outside were going in. Many were open looks, but some were forces as Smith became more frustrated.
It was like watching John Starks at his worst.
Mike Woodson pulled Smith early in the fourth quarter after another missed three and reinserted Carmelo Anthony. Smith did not come back in until there was just 2:46 remaining in the game, and then proceeded to contribute a season’s worth of drama until the final whistle. During the Bobcats’ next possession, Smith soared and swatted a Bismack Biyombo layup into the stands. Anthony hurt himself trying to save the ball going out of bounds, but it was as spectacular a defensive play as a guard can make. It was Dwyane Wade-esque.
Smith’s ball denial on the following possession helped force a 5-second violation. After a Ray Felton miss, the score was still tied, and the Knicks needed a stop. Smith made ANOTHER spectacular defensive play and stole a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist pass. He ran a two-on-one fast break with Felton and rather than finishing an easy layup he pulled the ball back with the score tied.
Only a heads-up timeout by Jason Kidd gave the Knicks a final chance to win the game with 3.4 seconds left. It was a boneheaded play and can only be described as a brain lock. Smith claimed he wasn’t sure the Knicks had the advantage on the fast break but that’s unfathomable. As Smith said after the game, his teammates were rightly upset at him for not going for the layup. None of his explanations really made sense. It’s my guess, and it’s just a guess, that he thought the Knicks were winning (not tied) and he was trying to run out the clock. It was as low a moment as you can have.
But on the Knicks’ final possession, Smith earned his penance. With Anthony still out of the game, he took a 20-foot step-back fadeaway jumper, and it hit nothing but net. It might have been the most difficult shot he took all night, but that was the one he hit in the biggest possible moment. In the final 2:46 he went from great to bonehead to savior.
That’s J.R. Smith, this era’s John Starks.
The scary thing? Smith has far more natural ability than Starks. He is bigger and a far better athlete. He can get his shot off whenever he wants, and is a good bad-shot shooter. His highs are in the stratosphere but his lows are near the earth’s core. This season he has been more consistent, especially with his defense, rebounding, and yes, his passing. But some nights, like last night, he was John Starks re-incarnated.
I wanted to kill him. Then I wanted to hug him. Luckily for the Knicks, this year, Smith has won far more games than he has lost. Woodson and J.R.’s teammates certainly hope that continues.
So do Knicks fans.
– It was pretty obvious the Knicks did not take the Bobcats seriously on Wednesday night, and were looking ahead to the Heat. If they played defense the entire game like they did in the final three minutes they would have won by 20 points. All that said, its impressive the Knicks pulled out this win on the road with Anthony shooting 1-11 in the second half and being off the floor for the final two minutes. These are the type of wins that get teams to 55 at the end of the season.
– This win not only belongs to Smith, but also Felton, who carried the Knicks in the second half (after taking off the bandage on his left hand) with thirteen points and four assists. With Smith combining to shoot 4-20 in the final two quarters it was Felton and Tyson Chandler’s 10 points and seven rebounds that made the difference.
– The Knicks shot a lot of threes, but most of them were open. Steve Novak has a wide open look to win it at the end, but much like the other threes earlier in the game, they didn’t go in.
– Chandler is really hitting his stride. He dominated with 18 points and 17 rebounds.
– Anthony should play against the Heat, despite the five stitches on the middle finger of his non-shooting hand.
– The Knicks are in an extremely tough spot against Miami tonight. They are on the second night of a road back-to-back after they had to play their rear-ends off to come back against the Bobcats. The Heat are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Washington Wizards of all teams. The Knicks already blew the Heat out at the Garden in early October.
Thursday’s game has a loss written all over it, but if the Knicks find a way to win they might very well be a special group.
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Do you buy the comparison to Starks? Be heard in the comments below!