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J.R. Smith returns, provides spark as Knicks beat 76ers

Knicks guard J.R. Smith dives over Atlanta Hawks

Knicks guard J.R. Smith dives over Atlanta Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll for a loose ball in the first half. (Nov. 13, 2013) Credit: AP

PHILADELPHIA -- The big freeze-out ended at the start of the second quarter. J.R. Smith -- who began the day by saying he wasn't sure when he would play again for the Knicks -- broke from the team's huddle, peeled off his warm-up shirt and joined his teammates in what would become a 102-92 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night.

This time Smith didn't untie anyone's shoes. Instead, he played a key role in unraveling the 76ers.

Say what you will about Smith, but he is not a player to shy away from the limelight. On Saturday night, he gave it a full-body embrace, leading the Knicks to a 32-12 second quarter with 11 points, four assists and 4-for-4 shooting from the field.

It was an appropriately crazy ending for an unbelievably crazy week for Smith, one in which he was fined $50,000 by the NBA and benched for a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat by coach Mike Woodson after trying to untie an opponent's shoe (or succeeding in doing so) in three consecutive games.

"I thought J.R. was a real pro tonight despite everything that's gone on," Carmelo Anthony said. "For him to bounce back the way he did and obviously put that stuff behind him and move forward, that was big-time for him as a person."

The win was the fourth straight and fifth in six games for the Knicks. The four-game streak is their longest since last spring, when they won 13 in a row.

Smith cooled off in the second half and finished the game with 14 points and 5-for-8 shooting. His return to the team almost overshadowed a monster game by Amar'e Stoudemire, who scored 21 points and shot 8-for- 10. Also coming up big for the Knicks was Anthony, who had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. The 76ers were led by Spencer Hawes and James Anderson, who scored 17 each.

Smith said he had no idea whether he would play against the 76ers until Woodson sent him in to start the second quarter. "He called my name, so I played," Smith said. "I just wanted to be aggressive, attack, get back to my old self, play with a chip on my shoulder. It worked."

Woodson was very careful about praising Smith after the game, preferring to talk about Stoudemire's big game. But Anthony, Smith's closest friend on the team, had no problem talking about Smith and how he believes he will learn from everything that transpired during the past week.

"I think there's certain situations where you just have to open your eyes and look at yourself in the mirror and say it's time for me to change myself," Anthony said. "This is a situation that really opened his eyes up. He looked himself in the mirror and hopefully he wants to change. He's got to change. It's up to him now."

Woodson made it clear this past week on his regular radio segment on ESPN New York's Stephen A. Smith Show that he thought Smith needed to change. In that segment he called him "unprofessional" and said he needed to "grow up."

"He's been telling me that since I got here," Smith said Saturday morning. "Honestly, growing up. I don't know if I really understand the true meaning of it."

But even Smith seemed to be upset about how far things have gone this time. He said before the game: "Yeah, I see it as frustrating and a distraction to our team. A distraction to what we're trying to do. I'm not pleased with it."

And after helping his team win a big game, Smith actually sounded as if he is learning the meaning of growing up -- or at least beginning to toe the party line.

When asked if he had learned anything, he said: "Yeah, don't goof around, I guess. Be serious. Be a professional. And just don't take this opportunity here you have for granted. There's a lot of people in this world that want our jobs. You can't take it for granted. It can be taken away just that fast."

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