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J.R. Smith takes step forward in Knicks' Game 5 win over Pacers

Knicks' JR Smith has the ball knocked from

Knicks' JR Smith has the ball knocked from his hands while getting defensive pressure from the Indiana Pacers' Sam Young during the first quarter. (May 16, 2013) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

J.R. Smith's shots weren't falling. His team wasn't winning. And his famous former gal pal had taken to social media to talk about his drinking habits.

Heading into the most important game of his career, things seemed to have hit rock bottom for the Knicks' slumping sharpshooter. Still, coach Mike Woodson, as he has done all season, stood by Smith before last night's Knicks-Pacers game at Madison Square Garden.

And Smith responded by showing some signs that he might be coming out of his shooting slump.

Though Smith's 13 points and 4-for-11 shooting from the field in the Knicks' 85-75 win were far from dominating, he played a solid first half when the Knicks needed to establish themselves.

More importantly, from the moment he hit his first shot of the game -- a three-pointer with 2:56 left in the first quarter -- Smith said he believed that his luck was beginning to turn.

"That helps out a lot,'' he said. "It takes the pressure off first thing.''

Smith had plenty of pressure entering the game, having shot 25-for-91 in his previous six games. After going 7-for-22 in the Knicks' Game 4 loss at Indiana, which put them on the verge of elimination, Smith blamed himself.

Then, just as it seemed things couldn't get worse, a profane post blaming Smith's recent shooting woes on his late-night clubbing appeared on pop star Rihanna's Instagram account. Rihanna and Smith were reported to be dating last year.

When you spend your professional life working with famous, rich young people, you get used to dealing with a certain level of drama. Still, Woodson had to be a bit put out that before a win-or-go-home Game 5 with the Pacers, he was asked as many questions about Instagram as he was about the change in his starting lineup.

"When you're coaching, you try to keep everything in-house and nice and neat, and sometimes things get away from you,'' Woodson said when asked before the game about dealing with Smith's distraction. "J.R.'s had his ups and downs here of late, but J.R. is still a big piece to our puzzle. I still believe in J.R. His teammates believe in him and we're expecting a big game out of him tonight.''

Smith said he talked to former Knicks guard John Starks after Game 4, and Starks told him that he was putting too much emphasis on what happened with his first shot. He advised him just to catch and shoot and block everything else out. That couldn't have been easy to do Tjhursday.

When asked about the Rihanna post, Smith said: "I'm not worried about Instagram. I'm worried about the playoffs.''

That's something Smith's teammates certainly are happy to hear.

"It's encouraging just to see J.R. playing basketball, putting everything else to the side,'' Carmelo Anthony said. "Everything else is irrelevant at this point.''

New York Sports