There were stretches last night when J.R. Smith simply couldn’t be stopped, and there were plays that left everyone in Madison Square Garden speechless and frustrated.
Smith poured in 36 points (14-29 FG) as the New York Knicks lost 95-94 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He hit six of his thirteen 3-point attempt and was the catalyst of New York’s offense for the entire game, but ultimately fell short.
The Knicks had possession of the ball with 7.9 seconds left, only down by a point. Smith, who had missed his previous three shot attempts in the fourth quarter, got the inbound pass and squared up with Russell Westbrook along the wing.
Instead of driving to the basket, Smith did something that he hadn’t done all night with the ball in his hands- he hesitated. After trying to back down Westbrook, Smith fired up a tough fade-away shot that would’ve put the Knicks up by one.
“I really should have went to the basket,” Smith said afterwards.
Mike Woodson, who is being criticized for his design of the final play, agreed. “The play was for J.R.” he said. “But once he actually caught it, he looked up at the clock and when he caught it and faced he could have just gone with it because everybody was plugged into their guys. He could have ripped through it and went to the rim. But he didn’t and settled for the jump shot.”
It’s hard to criticize Woodson for giving Smith the ball with the game on the line- he has hit two game-winning buzzer beaters this season, and had the hot hand all night for New York.
However, there should have been something else; a screen, a cut, some ball movement, anything. You can’t simply give Smith the ball and expect him to just win the game against a quality defender like Westbrook.
With Carmelo Anthony sidelined with an increasingly concerning knee-injury, Smith gave the Thunder all they could handle. But with New York still coming up short, it is now as clear as ever this team can’t win big games without Anthony: its best, and most clutch, player.