The first game-winner, if you don’t remember, was against the lowly Charlotte Bobcats back on December 5. With time again running down, and with Smith dribbling with his left hand, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – an excellent rookie defender – did everything in his power to make things impossible for Smith to get a shot off. But J.R. Smith is the perfect player to make the ridiculous seem sane, and he hit a fadeaway from the left side to give the Knicks a 100-98 victory. Possibly no other player in the league is more adept at these off-balance prayers, and Smith hit one again last night.
Just before the last play of the game as the Knicks sat on the sidelines, Smith could be seen rolling the ball through his fingers. Viewers could almost see him imagining himself taking the last shot while Mike Woodson diagrammed a play on the whiteboard. Smith’s fading floater over P.J. Tucker from the left side beat the Phoenix Suns as time expired last night, 99-97. His game-winner was also the perfect embodiment of Smith’s ability to drain a bending, twisting, gymnastic shot with a defender draped all over him. The skill and strength required, not to mention the irrational belief in yourself, to hit shots like this are best embodied by J.R. Smith. And it’s a player like him that can often be the difference among title contenders. It was Smith’s second game-winning shot of December, and he didn’t hesitate. Who among the league’s elite has a player like that coming off their bench?
Knicks fans are accustomed to at least one or two questionable shots from Smith every game. However, gone are many of his defensive lapses, or the griping to the press corps about his spot coming off the bench. He’s playing his butt off for Woodson, and he’s being rewarded for that hard work. But the man is so talented and so convinced of his own brilliance, you’re going to get a couple, unnecessarily tricky shots when the better play is to hit an open man. I’m pretty sure two crazy December game-winners have Knicks fans and Knicks players and coaches willing to forgive Smith for the occasional erratic shot. That same sublime confidence often translates into what we all saw last night.
Maybe it’s time we all start believing in Smith as much as he believes in himself. So far for New York this season, Smith’s ability to hit the impossible bucket has been the difference between a win and a loss on two different occasions. And we’re not even in January yet.
J.R. Smith’s tumultuous career might be an enigma wrapped inside a riddle, but try and imagine another player you’d rather have with the ball as the clock is winding down.
Is Smith one of the top 10 one-on-one players in the NBA?
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