Smith's clutch 3 saves Knicks

MILWAUKEE - J.R. Smith called his 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter against the Bucks a "regular shot."

Some would call that the understatement of the season.

Smith's 3 with 1:07 to play gave the New York Knicks the lead for good in a game they flat-out had to have on Wednesday night.

The 111-107 victory over Milwaukee gave the Knicks (30-28) a two-game lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A loss would have put New York in ninth place and out of the playoff picture because the Knicks would've been on the wrong end of a head-to-head tie-breaker with the Bucks (28-30).

Benny Sieu/US Presswire

J.R. Smith scored eight points in the final 4½ minutes on Wednesday night.

Now, the Knicks are two games up with eight to play. The Knicks and Bucks have split their games this season, so the next tiebreaker -- if necessary -- is conference record.

"This probably was the biggest win that we had thus far this season," Carmelo Anthony said after scoring a game-high 32 points. "On the road, we gutted it out."

The victory also left New York a game back of Philadelphia for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

"It was huge," head coach Mike Woodson said.

The shot also gave Smith a sense of redemption.

Since signing with the Knicks after a stint in the Chinese Basketball Association, the 26-year-old New Jersey native has been electric at times, erratic at others. Through 26 games, he's scoring 10.8 points on 38 percent shooting in 26 minutes a game.

Some nights he looks like the second scoring option to Anthony that the Knicks sorely need. Other nights, he looks a bit lost.

And early on in Wednesday's game, it looked like the Knicks were getting "Bad J.R."

He went 1-for-4 and committed two wasteful fouls in the first half, including one on a 3-point attempt by Mike Dunleavy. That stat line doesn't seem very damning until you consider this: The Knicks were outscored by 16 points with Smith on the court in the first half. They squandered a 14-point first-quarter lead.

"I wasn't having the best game," Smith said.

But, as he's done for most of his tenure on the bench, Woodson decided to stick with Smith in the second half over other options -- most notably Landry Fields. And the move paid off; Smith scored eight points in the final 4:40. All eight either tied the game of gave the Knicks a lead.

"I’m a big believer in J.R.," Woodson said. "I told him that after the game. I'm in his corner and I'm going to do everything I can to see that he's successful for this ball club."

Success in New York has been fleeting at times for Smith. The former Denver Nugget admitted to being frustrated when he's not shooting well; he said he can become hesitant on offense when shots aren't falling. Some of that frustration seemed to be brewing in the third quarter when he picked up another careless foul.

But Smith showed no hesitation late in the fourth quarter when Monta Ellis slipped under an Anthony screen to leave Smith open from 25 feet away. He put it through to give the Knicks a 108-107 lead.

"He shot it with confidence, he made it," Anthony said.

And he saved the Knicks on a night they sorely needed.