NEW YORK — J.R. Smith takes the shots you’re not supposed to take, the shots good defenses are designed to force.
Mid-range, off-the-dribble, step-back, contested, fade-away jumpers*. They’re bad shots, but they often go in. And the Boston Celtics could really use a player like Smith right now. But Smith belongs to the Knicks, a big reason why New York holds a 2-0 series lead.
* Maybe these need a twitter hashtag: #JRSMROTDSBCFAJ
In none of his previous eight seasons had Smith taken a greater percentage of his shots from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line) than he did this season (35.5 percent). In none of his previous eight seasons has he been assisted on a lower percentage of his buckets than he was this season (36.1 percent).
So basically, Smith took the worst shots of his career this season. But in none of his previous eight seasons has Smith been so trusted by his coach. He led the second best team in the Eastern Conference in minutes and, oh yeah, won the Sixth Man of the Year award.
We’ve talked often about how improved ball movement has led to the Knicks’ efficient offense, but Smith still took 1,249 of their shots and they had the lowest assist rate in the league. Individual play was still a key ingredient and they wouldn’t be where they are without isolation basketball.
Carmelo Anthony was Game 2’s leading scorer, but Tuesday was totally Smith’s night. He was presented his trophy in front of the Madison Square Garden crowd. He drained a mid-range, off-the-dribble, step-back, contested, fade-away jumper the first time he touched the ball. And he capped off the first quarter with a sequence in which he drained another mid-range, off-the-dribble, step-back, contested, fade-away jumper, forced Paul Pierce into a turnover, and drained a 36-footer at the buzzer, before going full plumage for his adoring fans.
Smith hasn’t exactly been efficient this series: 34 point on 34 shots. The words “J.R. Smith” and “efficient” don’t belong in the same sentence, really. He’s 1-for-9 on 3-pointers from above the break, with the one being the 36-footer.
But this has been the ugliest series of the 2013 postseason (the two teams have combined to score just 93 points per 100 possessions), and that’s probably not going to change as the series heads to Boston for Games 3 (Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN) and 4. Any offense is good offense in these games, especially when the opponent is doing its best to take away your primary options.
On that note, it’s interesting that Smith is 0-for-6 with Anthony on the bench in this series thus far, and 14-for-28 with Anthony on the floor. It’s a very small sample size, but it’s still interesting. Smith was a slightly better shooter with Anthony on the bench in the regular season.
There will probably come a time in these playoffs when Smith shoots the Knicks out of a game, maybe this weekend in Boston, maybe down the road against the Pacers or Heat. New York is 11-13 this season when he misses more than 10 shots.
But that’s what you get with Smith. The good comes with the bad.
Maybe that’s why Knicks fans love the guy so much.