NEW YORK – The Knicks needed something from somewhere. They were floundering in an ugly game against an ugly team that was hanging around and looking to insult to Jeremy Lin’s season-ending injury.
Then J.R. Smith scooped up a steal near mid-court, went behind his back against Cleveland’s Anthony Parker – who attempted to foul him – and scored on a left-handed layup that injected the energy that seemed to come and go all night.
It was the third of Smith’s five steals and two of his game-high 20 points to lead help the Knicks bounce back from Friday’s loss and oust the Kyrie Irving-less Cleveland Cavaliers, 91-75. But it was also the kind of spark that Smith provided most of the night, and a push that New York really needed.
“We need J.R. to play like that,” said Carmelo Anthony, who battled foul trouble but finished with 19 points and four rebounds. “He came out, bounced back from last night. We all bounced back from last night. For him to play like that, it gives us a boost, especially coming off the bench. Coming down the stretch we need him to play like that.”
The entire bench, especially Smith, struggled in New York’s loss to Atlanta Friday night. The streaky forward missed his first six shots, finished 2-for-10 with four fouls and never made a positive impact on the game. But Smith rebounded Saturday. He started by hitting his first three shots.
Smith darted all over the floor, also grabbing nine rebounds. But he was huge in the fourth quarter. He scored 12 points in the final period, including two 3-pointers and assisted on a three by Baron Davis that gave New York an 84-74 lead with 3:35 left to play.
“That’s how we need him to play coming off the bench,” interim head coach Mike Woodson said. “He has the ability to score points and he’s been contending. He had nine rebounds tonight. I just need him to be active. I thought last night in Atlanta he was very sluggish and he didn’t step up and play. Tonight he bounced back which was nice to see.”
Smith has been a major contributor to the Knicks potent bench since New York signed the forward last month after he played in China during the NBA lockout. Smith has always been known as a streak shooter who isn’t afraid to pull the trigger but his energy on defense is something the team has relied on as well.
The Knicks need is offense even more now with Amare Stoudemire sidelined and Lin now out for six weeks with a torn meniscus in his left knee. That’s nearly 30 points New York is now missing from the starting lineup.
“We’re going to need everybody, but J.R. specially,” Anthony said. “We’re going to need him to come off the bench with a park, with an edge and a chip on his shoulder.”
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