During J.R. Smith’s exit interview next week, the New York Knicks brass should tell him two words, “Good” and “Bye” or “Kick” and “Rocks.”
This may sound unfair, but this much is true. Smith’s disappearance is one of the main reasons New York was eliminated Saturday night.
The Knicks’ second leading scorer vanished when his team needed him the most. His questionable shot selection, lackadaisical defense and alleged nightlife activities hindered his team just as much as the Indiana Pacers’ interior presence all series.
This is on top of nearly jeopardizing the Knicks’ season weeks before when he threw an elbow at Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry in the opening round of the playoffs. He was suspended for Game 4, and the Celtics won the next two games before the Knicks closed them out in Game 6.
Smith’s playoff numbers accentuates his descent. Before being suspended, he averaged 16 points on 43 percent shooting. After the suspension, his scoring average dipped to 13.5 points per game on 29 percent shooting.
Unfortunately, Saturday night’s game offered more anecdotal evidence of Smith’s ineffectiveness, like in the second quarter, when he was beaten to a rebound because he jogged to the ball while Pacers reserve Sam Young sprinted.
Knicks players and staff had to look longingly at Lance Stephenson, the Pacers guard who was the antithesis of Smith, Saturday night. The gritty-Brooklyn-born, baller was tough, tenacious and intrepid. He gutted the Knicks’s interior defense all night, particularly in transition.
He drove to the rim at will. And when Knicks Center Tyson Chandler knocked him to the ground in the second half, Stephenson got back up. He keyed his team’s 11-2 run late in the game that ended New York’s season. The Pacers’ guard finished with 25 points, a playoff career high.
Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony did all he could to keep his team in the game. He finished with 39 points, but he needed Smith to be his Robin. Iman Shumpert, a less talented scorer than Smith, filled that role admirably.
Smith’s Game 6 performance made him an object of derision on Twitter, by Knicks fans and everyone else who tuned into the game. His lackluster play was enough for New York City radio personality “Charlamagne Tha God” to pose this question regarding Smith, who is infamous for his nightlife exploits, “You think NY clubs going to make J.R. Smith wait on line now at clubs or nah?”
It also makes you wonder whether a claim made by pop star Rihanna was true, that Smith was struggling in the Pacers series because he was hungover from partying.
In the beginning of the basketball season, published reports painted Smith as a transformed man, that he was more dedicated to basketball than the New York nightlife. If we are to believe Rihanna, it seems like the latter ultimately took precedence over the former – especially during the playoffs.
Smith will be a free agent this offseason, meaning he could sign with any NBA team that gives him the best offer. He has stated that he wants to be a Knick for the remainder of his career.
While Smith has given the Knicks two quality years, his actions over the last two weeks will ultimately determine whether he stays or goes.
Again, the latter should win over the former.
Tacuma R. Roeback is a New York Knicks writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TacumaRoe, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+