After receiving a suspension for game four of the Knicks/Celtics playoff series, many New York fans blamed J.R. Smith for his team’s loss last weekend.
After missing his first ten shots of game five, Smith only started to pick up the pace in the later minutes of the contest. By then, it was too late for him to help the Knicks escape a 92-86 loss.
Thus, there are plenty of Knicks fans who place the blame of New York’s past two losses on Smith’s shoulders. Of course, his poor play (or lack of presence in game four) has a lot to do with it. But should the swingman be struggling so mightily in a contest, when is it appropriate to blame the man whose choice it was to keep him in the game for so long?
Desperately in need of Smith’s offensive prowess in game four, perhaps Mike Woodson allowed the Knickerbockers to hang onto the hope that it would come roaring back in game five for a little bit too long.
It’s often been said that when it comes to a player like Smith, a team often rides or dies along with him. When he’s hot, there’s little an opponent can do to cool him off. When he’s off his game, however, things can go downhill in a hurry.
And that was surely the case in game five. As Smith went down in flames, so did the Knicks. But should this happen again, it’s up to Coach Woodson to make a change. With the postseason, has come more minutes for the likes of Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin. The veterans are ready to continue being let out of the cages after having their minutes preserved throughout the season. Their time is now.
But finding the right combinations of players also depends on who plays with who. If Carmelo Anthony is in the game, perhaps it’s best to surround him with players who not only spread the floor well, but have an extraordinary interest in distributing the ball. Players like Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, and Iman Shumpert are guys who stand to complement Anthony best for those very reasons.
When Anthony begins to slow down, get exhausted, and/or cool off, then Smith’s time will arise at the more appropriate moment. Alternating them would not only help New York create a bit more of a fresh one-two punch, but also loosen up the offense by surrounding each scorer with more sensible players. Depending on Anthony and Smith together puts pressure on New York to make sure each one gets their touches, and that usually results in more isolation and stagnant ball movement.
As Woodson looks down the bench, it’s important to also utilize the other weapons in his arsenal. When looking for players who help keep the Celtics’ defense honest, it’s anyone’s guess as to why Chris Copeland hasn’t gotten more burn. If and when Martin and Tyson Chandler rack up early fouls, Woodson needs to feel comfortable calling upon Marcus Camby. The big man, who made his first cameo appearance in a game (five) since March earlier this week, is in a uniform for a reason. He should be able to offer something, if it’s at the very least, a physical body to throw around and absorb some fouls as Chandler and Martin recharge.
With a 3-2 series lead, the Knicks are still in the divers’ seat. But as the past two games have proven, it may be up to Coach Woodson to make the necessary adjustments to keep that same control and put Boston away to avoid a pivotal game seven.