On a night when the Knicks flirted with their greatest fear, they were saved by their greatest wild card.
If you wanted to sum up JR Smiths entire career, you could do worse than just showing a tape of Wed night win. The man who can flip from making plays of unusual brilliance to ones of unusual inanity did a little of everything in the Knicks' 100-98 win over the Bobcats.
Smith missed 10 of the first 15 shots he tried, including eight of nine threes, as the Knicks tried to keep up with Charlotte all night, but he came up with three big plays in the final couple of minutes to save the day. He blocked a shot to help force a 24-second violation, a play that wound up badly for the Knicks when Carmelo Anthony cut his finger diving into the first row to keep the ball from going out of bounds.
Then he came up with a steal to give the Knicks possession in a tie game with seven seconds left, another great play that was mitigated by a poor decision to pull the ball out on a fastbreak instead of taking it to the hoop. It was strange to see Smith not take a shot because it's always strange to see Smith not take a shot when he's got the ball in his hands on the offensive side of the floor.
It was hard to tell just what J.R. had in mind with the ball, but it clearly wasn't calling a time out. Jason Kidd looked a bit like a pterodactyl flying across the hoop as he gestured wildly while trying to get the referee's attention to call timeout after Smith pulled the ball out, but he got it and that's what the Knicks needed to turn the frantic final seconds into stillness.
You knew that Mike Woodson would be drawing up a final play that put the ball in Smith's hands. For all the ghastly shots he put up on Wednesday, he's right behind Anthony on the list of Knicks able to create just enough space to get off any shot and that's the skill you're looking for with seconds to play.
J.R. got the ball off the inbounds, dribbled, elevated, faded away, fired and hit the shot as time expired. He celebrated in silence as his teammates swarmed around, posing with his head cocked in a way that called to mind the bust of a Roman general.
That's more of a stretch than the John Starks comparisons bounding about Twitter on Wednesday night, one that works quite well for anyone old enough to remember the way that Starks could conjure up something glorious at the end of an otherwise terrible night. Smith is the same kind of wild card, capable of providing frustration, exhilaration, anger and joy in the course of a few minutes.
It was hero on Wednesday night, a night that was supposed to simply be prelude to Thursday night main event in Miami before turning into much, much more. Anthony wound up getting stitches on his finger and his status for Thursday is up in the air.
If he doesn't go, we won't be able to use the game as a test of where the Knicks are in relation to Miami right now. There's a chance, in fact, that they'd just decide to see whether Smith could shoot them to victory all by himself.
A crazy idea that just might work. Sort of like J.R. Smith himself.