Earl Joseph Smith, III, better known as JR Smith, a shooting guard who makes good on that title, is in the midst of his best season playing basketball in the National Basketball Association. His success was rewarded on Monday, when he received the 2012-2013 Kia NBA Sixth Man Award.
Tuesday, before the New York Knicks victory over the Boston Celtics, Smith was acknowledged by the organization and got a great reception from the fans. I asked the Freehold, New Jersey, product after the game what it felt like to receive the applause. “The fans were great. I didn’t think it would have happened but it was an out-of-body feeling. I never really thought I would get a standing ovation at the Garden the way I did. It was great. I love the fans here. I love the Garden. It’s so easy and fun to play here. If you play good basketball, it’s easy. If you play bad basketball, they let you know.”
This is a sharp contrast to the JR Smith of last season, and even the beginning of the season. Last year, Smith was a fixture on the New York Nightlife Scene, and I even saw him at an event in East Harlem. Earlier this season, Smith talked about slowing down his off-court activities. “I’m not going to lie, New York City nightlife last year pretty much got to me. I was going out pretty much every other night, just not focused on the task at hand. This year is definitely different.”
Another difference that Smith pointed out last night was his vocal desire to be a starter this season. I asked him about that as well, and his ability to mentally embrace coming off the bench to great success. “Early on in the year, a lot of people know this, a lot of people know this, I didn’t really want to come off the bench to start off with. But my vets did a good job of keeping me with a level head and making sure I know that it was all about the team and so far, it is paying off.”
It has paid off in personal success for JR Smith, with him winning the Sixth Man Award, and team success as well, with the Knicks winning the Atlantic Division and earning the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. As the Knicks continue their series with the Boston Celtics, and, possibly, beyond, a lot of their future success will depend on the shooting of guard JR Smith.
As this piece was originally written, it was done, but, unfortunately, a game three elbow that Smith swung at Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry was assessed a Flagrant Two foul that led to ejection. Saturday night, the NBA suspended Smith for game four against the Celtics, a game the Knicks would lose in overtime. Smith was sorely missed by the Knicks, has the offensive production was squarely on the shoulders of Carmelo Anthony, who was only 10-35 with seven turnovers. This is the old JR Smith, and, unfortunately, in a season where he has shown so much maturity, he implodes in a game the Knicks were up big.
With the game four loss, the Boston Celtics have been given another chance in this series. With game five at Madison Square Garden, and, if necessary, game seven, the Knicks should be able to overcome the Celtics and the mistake of Smith. In the second round, possibly against the Indiana Pacers, and, in the Eastern Conference Finals, likely against the Miami Heat, the same mistake by JR Smith would be much harder, if not impossible, to overcome.