J.R. Smith was back on the court Wednesday but continued to play like he was absent until the final quarter.
Smith, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, had the worst night by a Knicks reserve in the playoffs since John Starks' epic meltdown in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals. Smith missed his first 10 shots and finished with 14 points, shooting n 3-for-14 in 36 minutes as the Celtics staved off elimination by defeating the Knicks, 92-86, at Madison Square Garden in Game 5 of their first-round series.
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After the game, a shell-shocked-looking Smith said he blamed himself for the Knicks' losses in Games 4 and 5.
"I can't have a game like this," he said. "I can't have another one like this."
Smith, a streaky and emotional player all season, was suspended and missed Game 4 after swinging an elbow at the Celtics' Jason Terry late in Game 3. Smith said that neither he nor his team has been the same since.
"We were in a great rhythm going in the last 20 games of the season and the first three playoff games," he said. "Then I come out today and stink it up with two huge turnovers, missed a lot of shots, bad defense on my part."
Smith, however, was harder on himself than his teammates and coach were.
"He missed shots, but he took some tough shots," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "He got some free shots toward the end and he was able to knock down. It was a struggle for him the whole game. We have to get him in the position where he's not struggling."
Said Raymond Felton: "A guy misses a game, he's going to be a little anxious. J.R. will be fine. Everyone will be fine. We just have to settle down and get this thing over."
On Tuesday, Smith blamed himself for the Knicks' loss and the fact that Terry had been able to lead the Celtics to a Game 4 win. He stopped short of saying he had a tee time set up, but the way he was talking it certainly sounded like he did.
"Oh yeah, it would've been over," Smith said. "I'd have been playing golf."
Smith looked like his mind was on the links for the first three quarters of the game. It wasn't until the final quarter that he started knocking down shots. Smith did hit three three-pointers in the final period, but it was too late for the Knicks.
Smith entered with the Knicks leading 11-4. He went 0-for-5 and while he was on the floor, the Knicks went from leading by seven to trailing 38-37 with 2:29 left in the half. Terry, meanwhile, came off the bench to hit two three-pointers for the Celtics, who led 45-39 at the break.
Woodson believes it's up to the Knicks to find a way to get Smith better shots earlier.
Said Woodson: "We need him to score the basketball for us."