J.R. Smith Keeps New York Knicks' Playoff Hopes Alive

By Evan Slavit
JR Smith
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks came into Wednesday night’s game two and a half games out of the playoffs. With only 11 games remaining in the season the Knicks came into Sacramento needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Early on that seemed like an easy task, but a 63-48 halftime lead over the Sacramento Kings slowly evaporated in the third quarter. It appeared the Knicks were headed for their third straight loss — a damaging reality as all three opponents were sub-.500.

The low would certainly fit in line with the roller coaster the Knicks have been on all season, trading off extended losing and winning streaks. Back in February — after the Knicks blew a game in overtime to the Orlando Magic — the Knicks started losing, and it appeared they might not win again for the remainder of the season. But rumors of Phil Jackson joining the front office seemed to rejuvenate the team. They won eight straight and revitalized hopes of making the playoffs.

Of course this mini losing streak seemed to put a damper on those hopes. With the lead shrinking, J.R. Smith made his mark. Usually a target of criticism, Smith was one of the players trying to pump the team up after the disappointing loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He backed that up with a Knicks franchise record-tying nine three-pointers made in the game.

Overall Smith had 29 points, four rebounds, four assists and a block. His contributions couldn’t fully be explained by the box score, though. His made three-pointers were timely, hitting them each time the Kings were on a run and close to taking the lead. He wouldn’t let this Knicks team give up. Overall he was 9-of-12 from behind the arc and didn’t seem to force his shot.

This win was important. With so few games remaining, the Knicks couldn’t afford to lose to a Kings team that is 25-46, the third-worst record in the West. Not when they only have one game remaining against a sub-.500 team — the Utah Jazz.

Saying Smith has been a disappointment this season would be an understatement. Last season he was on fire down the stretch and looked to be the Robin to Carmelo Anthony‘s Batman. This season has been another story. But if this game is any indication and Smith can once again contribute at a high level, the Knicks might be able to snag that last playoff spot away from the struggling Atlanta Hawks.

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