Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.
Today's Burning Question: Can J.R. Smith find his groove again in Game 3?
The day after shooting 10-for-28 in the Knicks' Game 1 loss to the Pacers, Carmelo Anthony said he met with the coaching staff to "figure out different ways" to score more easily.
What Anthony noticed was he began to rush his shot too much after his first couple of misses. In addition, the coaches knew they needed to add some screen sets to create more space for him to shoot against the defensive-minded Pacers. In Game 2, Melo shot 50 percent from the field (13-for-26) for the first time in eight playoff games.
"When you make shots, it makes the game easier, for sure," he said on Thursday. "When you miss shots, you start pressing a little bit; you try to start finding ways and forcing ways to try to make shots. The other day [in Game 2], I was just being patient."
Patience is also a key for Smith, who shot 3-for-15 in Game 2. In his past four games, he's shooting only 26.3 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from 3-point range.
A top defensive team like the Pacers wants the opponent's top scorers to take contested 2-pointers, which is what Smith has been doing, resorting to his step-back jumper. Part of the problem is he's been holding the ball too long against the added pressure, which he has a tendency to do, and then he's getting too comfortable shooting from the outside.
Because Smith has the ball in his hands quite a bit, his mentality should be to facilitate first and shoot second. If the ball doesn't move against the Pacers' defense, he and the Knicks will have a tougher time getting good shots. Smith needs to make quicker reads and feel more confident in giving up the ball, knowing that it could find him again in a better position to shoot closer to the basket, not always along the perimeter.
Smith improved his moving without the ball in Game 2. He had a backdoor cut on Paul George and then ran baseline off of a Jason Kidd screen to receive a pass inside for a layup (which was called off for traveling). Smith needs to get to the basket to help the Knicks.
Beyond patience, facilitating and simply playing smarter, Smith needs to continue to attack, attack, attack. That aggressiveness to the basket elevated him to Sixth Man Award status. Smith's intensity has appeared to trail off recently because he's missing shots. But he'll re-energize himself by crashing the glass, causing turnovers and pushing the pace in transition. That's how he flourished during the regular season.
"We need J.R. to just be aggressive," Anthony said.
Smith needs to first find his flow in Game 3 beyond his jump shot. Switch it up -- make a pass, get a steal and then score a layup. If his jumper is on, even better. If that initial one goes down, it could be a long night for the Pacers.
How confident are you that Smith will have a breakout performance in Game 3? Leave us your comments below.
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