J.R. Smith Giveth and J.R. Smith Taketh Away

Smith carries Knicks back into game and then shoots them out of it

By Josh Alper
|  Friday, Mar 8, 2013  |  Updated 8:04 AM EDT
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The last few didn't fall on a night when Smith flirted with a performance for the ages.

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There are nights when it would actually be easier to just get blown out. 

Nights when you've steeled yourself for a loss and made the agreement with yourself that you aren't going to be overly upset when things wind up going that way. It isn't something that happens too often, although the Knicks have had two of them in the last week. 

Against both the Heat last Sunday and the Thunder on Thursday night, a blowout loss would have been hard to watch but easy to understand and move past because teams as good as those two teams tend to blow out their opposition. 

Blowouts never came, however, and the Knicks put up valiant and ultimately futile efforts both times. The Heat made up a 16-point deficit and grabbed the game by the throat in the fourth quarter while the Knicks shot themselves back into their game with the Thunder only to eventually lose 95-94 on a night when they played without Carmelo Anthony. 

Thursday night ended with a pair of J.R. Smith misses on plays when the offense was designed to put the ball in his hands for an open three and a contested two, shots he missed to allow the Thunder to escape with a win that was painfully within reach for the Knicks. You would have liked to see him go to the basket each time -- Smith slammed himself after the game for settling for outside shots -- but you can't really complain about the idea of letting Smith decide things. 

It was Smith's 36 points that had the Knicks in position to win the game in the first place after all. Using a variety of spins, fadeaways, three-pointers in traffic and other types of shot that make you wonder what he's doing right up until the shot falls, Smith settled the Knicks after an ugly start and led them back into the game. 

So, as no one has likely ever said before, you live by the contested fadeaway and you die by the contested fadeaway. Smith cooled off in the fourth quarter and wound up missing his final four shots, but it's awfully tough to ride a player all the way through the game and then act like it was a crime to give him the chance to win it for you. 

Would it have been nice to see a Raymond Felton-Amar'e Stoudemire pick-and-roll that got everyone moving toward the basket? Sure, although it's hard to imagine that anyone would have been offended by the play call had either of Smith's shots found their way to the bottom of the net. 

This is who Smith is as an NBA player. You might not like his game, but you can't deny it has a place after watching him almost single-handedly take down one of the league's best teams. 

In hindsight, the calls were imperfect but they fit perfectly within the framework of the game. It doesn't make losing any easier, but it's irrational to lament the choices at the end without accepting that the end reflected the game at large. 

Pro sports gives no points for trying, so you can't get too excited about coming close to the Thunder without Anthony because a loss is a loss is a loss. Any joy at seeing Kenyon Martin give 17 minutes of defensive edge must be muted because of the way the scoreboard looked when all is said and done. 

The same is true of Smith's remarkable night of work, although that doesn't mean ignoring all the sides of it. He didn't get the final shot to fall, but that can't overshadow all the ones that would have felt a lot less agonizing if the Thunder had just won by 30. 

Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.

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