NEW YORK — Jason Terry never lacks for confidence. But it seems like he sometimes needs a little motivation.
Recall Game 2 of the 2011 Finals, when Dwyane Wade posed in front of the Dallas Mavericks’ bench after his 3-pointer gave the Miami Heat a 15-point lead with just over seven minutes to go in the game.
In the ensuing timeout, Terry turned to teammate Dirk Nowitzki and said, “There’s no way we’re going out like this.”
Fueled by Wade’s showboating (and by the prospect of going down 0-2), the Mavs finished the game on a 22-5 run to even the series. And without that comeback, the Heat are probably the two-time defending champs. Nowitzki capped that game off with a bunch of big shots, but who scored the first six points (and eight of the first 13) of that run? Jason Terry.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter of Friday’s Game 3 between the Knicks and Celtics, when, with the Knicks up 78-59, J.R. Smith‘s intentional elbow knocked Terry to the floor, getting Terry fired up and getting Smith ejected. Ironically, there were just over seven minutes to go in the game.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, they didn’t have Nowitzki on Friday and the league’s 20th-ranked offense wasn’t coming back from a 19-point deficit in seven minutes. But Terry’s fuel clearly carried over to Game 4, when he scored the Celtics’ final nine points of overtime to bring this series back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT).
Afterward, Celtics coach Doc Rivers mentioned the idea that Smith’s elbow “changed the events for all of us.”
“Definitely, Jason Terry was angry that it happened,” Rivers said. “He let his teammates know [Saturday] and [Sunday]. But he’s just a fighter.”
Elbow aside, this has been an ugly series, the slowest-paced and, by far, the least-efficient series of the first round. Both teams have been held under a point per possession over the four games, and both are desperate for whatever offense they can get.
In Game 4, the Knicks had a scorer (Smith) taken away from them, and the Celtics had a scorer (Terry) finally find his rhythm. The result was Boston’s first win of the series.
If the Celtics are going to stay alive again on Wednesday, they’ll need Terry to keep making shots, because the Celtics still lack a point guard to create offense and the Knicks are going to keep swarming Paul Pierce.
If Terry needs any more motivation to take this series back to Boston, Smith is happy to provide it.
As Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe writes, Smith added more fuel to the fire at practice on Tuesday:
J.R. Smith played dumb. The Knicks guard had just been asked about the performance of Jason Terry in Game 4, a performance that yielded Boston’s final 9 points of the game, in overtime.
That would be the same Jason Terry who goaded Smith into elbowing him in the face in Game 3, an offense for which Smith received a one-game suspension.
“Who?” Smith said. “I don’t even know who that is.”
It didn’t stop there.
Asked another question about Terry, Smith kept up the charade.
“Who?” he said again. “Who is that?”
And so, with the Knicks up, three games to one, in their first-round series against the Celtics, there has been another shot of adrenaline for Boston, courtesy of a player who seems completely confident in his own abilities and his own effect on the series.
Asked what would have happened had he been on the court in Game 4, Smith said, “Oh, yeah. It would’ve been over. I would’ve been playing golf today.”
Smith may be right and the Knicks may put this series to bed on Wednesday. But Sunday’s Game 4 was about as intense as a 3-0, close-out game gets. Now, Smith has ensured something similar in Game 5. It’s not like the Celtics weren’t the league’s most prideful team anyway.
The Knicks still have the luxury of home-court advantage, but given how both teams have struggled offensively, there’s not a larger margin for error in this series. Game 5 may come down to which sixth man can turn motivation into production.