BOSTON - J.R. Smith ran up the tunnel and into the Knicks' locker room with 7:06 left in Friday night's 90-76 Game 3 victory over the Celtics after getting ejected for an elbow to the head of Boston's Jason Terry.
Whether Smith runs out of that tunnel for Sunday's Game 4 is up in the air.
Smith could be suspended by the league for what was ruled a flagrant 2 foul. It came with the Knicks leading 78-59 and nearly sparked a melee after Terry tried to charge at Smith (he was stopped by Celtics coach Doc Rivers).
"I wish I was playing," Rivers said. "I didn't like that . . . I'm going to stop. I've already given up money."
Rivers was referring to a $25,000 fine the NBA slapped on him for criticizing the officials after Game 2.
The Knicks might not need Smith for Game 4 with a 3-0 lead in the series. But he would like to be on the floor for what could be the clincher.
"I'm going to prepare like I'm playing," Smith said. "Hopefully I do play. It wasn't anything intentional. I think if they go back and watch the video, they'll see that. Hopefully I do play."
Smith, who scored 15 points in 24:21, elbowed Terry while trying to fend off the veteran's attempts to swat the ball away from him. It was called an offensive foul and then upgraded to a flagrant 2 after a video review.
"I was trying to draw the foul," Smith said. "He reached in one time. I thought he was going to reach in again a second time. I was going to try to get a quick shot off, but they made a call that the refs saw, and there's really not much I can do about it."
Asked if he thought the ejection was fair, Smith said: "I don't really know. I'm not really a judge of that. I'm going to let them do what they do. I'm really trying to stay away from getting into it with the officials. I've got to keep my head. It was a bad basketball play on my behalf because I got kicked out of the game. My team needed me. Just got to get ready to play Sunday."
Smith, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award winner, has mostly been cured of his knuckleheadedness by the tough love of coach Mike Woodson. But Woodson knows keeping Smith on the right path is a full-time job.
"He'll learn from it," Woodson said. "I don't think he was trying to hurt the kid. I thought he was trying to clear space, but they saw it differently . . . He'll learn from it. I'm going to stay in his ear to make sure he learns from it."
Said Smith: "He poked at the ball. Almost knocked it out of my hands. I thought he was going to make another swipe. Whenever he guards me, he likes to swing at the ball. It was just a bad basketball play."