J.R. Smith slumping, but Mike Woodson not giving up on him
The shooter in J.R. Smith knows there's only one way to break his way out of a slump. Keep hoisting those shots, he said, because eventually they'll start falling.
When does it become time to put a stop to those shots?
Overshadowed by the Knicks' 105-79 Game 2 win over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday was another poor shooting night by Smith. It's an issue that grows more important the deeper this best-of-seven series goes.
Game 3, with the series tied at 1, is Saturday night in Indianapolis.
Smith, the excitable but streaky Knicks sixth man, shot only 3-for-15 from the field, including 1-for-7 on three-pointers, in the Knicks' win, marking his fourth straight subpar shooting game.
He has shot only 26 percent (15-for-57) since he returned from his one-game suspension during the first-round series against the Celtics.
Woodson said on ESPN Radio Wednesday that he is not afraid of sitting Smith on the bench for longer periods of time if his shooting woes continue and the Knicks find themselves in need of offense.
"I'll gauge J.R. as we go along and if I feel he's not giving me anything, I could always turn to other guys on that bench," he said. "I feel good about the guys who come in off the bench, just like I feel good about J.R. But if he's struggling and I feel the need that I got to pull him, I will do that as the head coach."
Smith clearly was frustrated with his offensive ineptitude on Tuesday night, but his teammates have encouraged him to keep shooting. And Woodson has stuck with him thus far, too.
"I'm not going to kick him to the curb," he said. "He's a big part of what we did this season."
The Knicks know how good Smith can be when he's on. He's coming off a breakout regular season in which he averaged a career-high 18.1 points in 33.5 minutes off the bench, establishing himself as the Knicks' second-best scoring option and earning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year honors.
If the Knicks want to advance, they need Smith back to his old self. That's why Carmelo Anthony has been in his ear, offering the message that every struggling shooter lives by during these times.
"He kept telling me the shots going to fall, the shots going to fall," Smith said of Anthony. "Unfortunately they didn't for me."
But despite the many missed shots these last four games, Woodson said he has not felt the urge to pull Smith because he's been happy with his effort on the defensive end. Smith had six rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot Tuesday night.
"I think he's giving us a lot defensively," Woodson said. "That's why he's staying out on the floor because he's holding his own defensively. He's rebounding some for us at his position.
"But he is and has struggled offensively and it's my job as the coach, the staff and his teammates, we got to get him out of his funk and get him back to playing like we know he's capable of playing."
The next opportunity to break out comes Saturday night, and Smith promises to keep shooting. That much is certain. What happens after that is anyone's guess.
"The wonderful thing about J.R., and the beauty about his play this year, is even when he has struggled, he has always been able to come through in clutch situations," Woodson said. "And that says a lot. He's not scared to take the big shot."