Dennis Smith Jr. was a few feet behind the three-point line late in the first quarter when he rose up and lofted a long three-point attempt. It slipped cleanly through the net and, for the first time this season, he looked like he was at home.
After a 3-for-17 preseason performance and a 1-for-14 shooting slump this season wrapped around a 12-day absence from the team to be with his family following the sudden passing of his stepmother, Smith seemed to find his stride. He hit another three-pointer in the first half and was driving to the rim and dishing off with ease.
While the attention at Madison Square Garden was on Kristaps Porzingis, Smith was facing the team that traded him away - having missed the first meeting between the two teams last week.
“He’s working his way back,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “You’re talking about a guy that’s been through a lot, if you talk about over the last year and a half. Obviously, being traded and now coming into this year, right out of the gate getting injured after having an incredible summer of hard work. Then his stepmother passes away, which was a tremendous blow to him and his family, obviously all of us who love him. Now he’s back with us and we have to figure out a way to get him back where he can involve himself to the level that he’s capable of.”
The Knicks entered the game ranked dead last in offensive rating, but when Fizdale was asked about the team’s propensity for using isolation plays, he made a comparison that seemed like a stretch.
“It is funny how that works, right?” Fizdale said. “I don’t hear anybody [complaining] about Houston isolating. They hold the ball the whole game but they score 1,000 points. So I think it’s just a matter of finding balance in what they do. But I know for our team in order to have consistent success we need to have consistent ball movement.”
Back in action
Mitchell Robinson returned to action Thursday after missing three games with a concussion suffered last week in Detroit.
Robinson suffered the injury when he took an inadvertent blow to the head from Pistons’ forward Markieff Morris and went through the NBA’s concussion protocol before coming off the bench Thursday.