For three quarters, it was the same old story again. J.R. Smith hoisted up jumper after jumper. They bounced off the backboard, rolled off the rim and fell left and right -- everywhere but in the hole.
Smith, the emotional engine of a Knicks team that hopes to go deep in the NBA playoffs, opened the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Pacers by shooting 1-for-10 in the first three quarters. Not so coincidentally, the Knicks lost, 102-95, finding it impossible to climb out of their 16-point deficit at the end of the third quarter.
It got so bad that at one point in the second quarter, rumors were rampant on Twitter that Smith had been out late at a nightclub on Saturday night. After the game, he responded on his own Twitter account, TheRealJRSmith, by saying: "First and for most, I wasn't clubbing before the game, so y'all can kill that. Don't try an find reasons when I miss shots!"
But it is hard not to look for reasons. Smith wound up with 17 points but shot 4-for-15, making it the third straight game in which he has been off the mark.
Since being suspended for Game 4 of the Celtics series for elbowing Jason Terry, Smith has shot 12-for-42 and totaled 44 points in three games.
"I don't know. I don't know," Smith said when asked if there is a reason for his shooting slump. "It's just one of those things you go through, and hopefully it comes back soon."
Smith said it wasn't so much the Pacers' defense that gave him problems as his own wrong mind-set for the first three quarters.
"Really, I did it to myself," he said. "I was playing through a mental game, trying to get the basket, relying on my jumper too much. When I miss shots, I just need to keep pushing the ball instead of walking it up. I'm a big piece of the puzzle. I need to keep pushing and pushing and pushing. And don't beat myself up mentally."
One big reason Smith is such a big piece of the puzzle in this series is that the Pacers are an extremely physical team inside, and one thing the Knicks can do to stretch their defense is to knock down some outside shots.
Smith wasn't the only shooter off his mark. Carmelo Anthony, who picked up his fourth foul in the middle of the third quarter, shot 10-for-28 overall and was 1-for-4 from three-point range. With both of them missing, the Knicks didn't stand much of a chance.
Said Kenyon Martin: "If we can get those guys to make a few shots, then it probably would have been a better outcome."