No one is lukewarm about J.R. Smith. You either love the guy or you hate the guy. Or you feel both ways with equal intensity in a single minute.
For Knicks fans, watching J.R. Smith is like chewing on a pack of Sour Patch Kids: Your senses ricochet painfully between two intense extremes as he follows a clutch three-pointer with three straight bricks.
The last player to elicit this kind of pain and love from Knicks fans was John Starks, who incidentally was the last Knicks player to win the league's Sixth Man award before Smith won it Monday. And if Smith reminds you a lot of Starks, you aren't the only one.
He reminds Starks of Starks, too.
"There's no question," Starks said Tuesday in an interview on WFAN radio. "I love J.R. I love his tenacity and the way he approaches the game. He has no fear and that's the way you have to be, especially the guys coming off the bench. He doesn't worry about misses and you can't in this game. If you worry about misses, you tend to freeze up out there."
Smith, who was honored for winning the Sixth Man trophy before Tuesday night's game, started off Game 2 on a candy-sweet high.
He scored nine points in the first quarter, ending it with a series that was vintage Starks / Smith and brought the Garden fans to their feet screaming.
First Smith hit a 21-foot fadeawy jumper with 6.8 seconds left. Then, after Paul Pierce collided with Smith and turned the ball over with 4.7 seconds left on the clock, Smith managed to rush down the court, and just a few feet inside the half-court line, he knocked down a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Knicks a 26-20 lead.
If that had been Starks, the Garden crowd would have seen a screaming chest bump with Patrick Ewing or Anthony Mason. Smith celebrated with a solo air guitar move, then ended his celebration by dropping to his knees and waving wildly to the heavens.
Of course, Smith followed that monstrous quarter by going 1-for-5 in the second quarter as the Celtics fought back.
He believes that Woodson understands that the key to Smith being the player he is is that he has to believe that every basket he throws up is going to go in.
"He doesn't freeze up out there," Starks said. "He can miss two or three in a row, but still have the confidence to know that he's not going to miss the next shot. That's his attitude. You need to have the kind of attitude he has to play the role he does. And he does a great job with it. He won the Sixth Man Award. And he deserves it."
Even if he isn't always easy to watch.