GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Thursday night’s win over the Dallas Mavericks was an emotional one for Dennis Smith Jr.
The Knicks guard had 13 points and eight assists against the team that traded him last season. It was a good game for Smith, who suffered a back injury in training camp, was booed by New York fans after he got off to a slow start, and missed nearly two weeks mourning the sudden death of his stepmother.
Smith said after the game that he sat alone at his locker and just reflected on the fact that his stepmother had not been there to watch his best game as a Knick this season.
“It was kind of bittersweet for me, beating the team that had traded me but my stepmom wasn’t here to see it,” Smith said Friday after practice. “You know what I’m saying? I had to take some time out [for] myself and really digest something like that. But it does put things in perspective. She watched every game. Every single game. Even when I was in college. She was a Tar Heel fan. When I went to N.C. State, she rooted for N.C. State. So it put things into perspective.”
Smith was the key piece the Knicks got back when they traded Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas. For the most part, like all of the other Knicks guards, he has been inconsistent. But the game he played against Dallas on Thursday showed the 21-year-old’s potential.
“I think it was just a matter of time,” coach David Fizdale said when asked about Smith’s big game. “A big part of it is he gained a lot of perspective when he was away from us. I think all of us adults can attest to the fact that when you lose somebody close to you and suffer real-life adversity, it puts other things in perspective, especially your job. He got back to playing, he started to look at this as more of a game instead of a job with pressure on him. Hopefully he can keep that mindset.”
That mindset helped him make more shots than he has all season. After shooting 1-for-14 through his first four games, Smith was 5-for-12 against the Mavericks, including 2-for-4 from three-point range.
“That’s the Dennis we need every game,” Julius Randle said. “He’s just going out there playing, playing free. Not worried about anything. When he does that, he’s really dangerous.”
Fizdale gave Smith the game ball after the win.
“I was so proud of him,” Fizdale said. “He’s been through more than any of us can imagine. The kid had an incredible summer of work, and to get hurt right away in camp, get knocked for a loop, and then right when he gets back healthy, trying to get healthy, he gets booed. That’s tough for a young kid, to get booed. Then his stepmom passes. He comes back to us, through all of it . . . He had a really solid basketball game.”