- Last Updated: 11:14 AM, December 6, 2012
- Posted: 1:54 AM, December 6, 2012
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Whatta way to head to South Beach!
J.R. Smith, who was in a seven-game shooting slump and who couldn’t hit the side of a milk truck Wednesday night, never stopped believing and finally got one to go, the one he will remember forever.
Smith swished a miraculous buzzer-beating 18-foot jumper that sent the Knicks to a 100-98 thrilling victory over the Bobcats at Time Warner Arena and to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 13-4. They enter tonight’s showdown in Miami against the 12-4 Heat as new beasts of the East.
In the first game-winning shot of his career, Smith, working on the left side, drained the step-back jumper while covered tightly by rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. As the ball fell through, Smith froze in the corner as teammates mobbed him in a wild celebration.
Smith, friends with Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, then did a salsa dance on his way off the court as the club shuffled off to Miami ready for the defending champs. The Knicks played the final 2:10 without Carmelo Anthony, who sliced his left middle finger on a metal container, diving for a ball.
Anthony, who scored 20 of his 23 points in the first half, needed six stitches and hasn’t committed to playing tonight’s game.
“It was unbelievable,’’ said Smith, who finished with 13 points on 6-of-16 shooting (1 of 9 from 3-point land). “This is my first game-winner I’ve ever had. I knew the move I wanted to go to. My step-back, it was just a matter of getting there. Fortunately he fell for it and I got it off, but he did a great job contesting it.’’
Off the inbounds with 3.4 seconds left and the game tied, coach Mike Woodson said the play was designed for either struggling Raymond Felton (17 points, 7 of 19 from the field) or Smith. The Bobcats had a foul to give but failed to do so.
“Raymond didn’t have an open shot, so he let it go to J.R. and he took the responsibility and made the big shot,’’ Woodson said.
Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who likes to be linked to winners, visited the Knicks’ locker room for more than 20 minutes. Jordan is close friends with Knicks assistant Darrell Walker, his former Bulls teammate and ex-Washington coach. But Jordan also saluted Smith.
“He said something, but I can’t really repeat it,’’ Smith said. “It’s unbelievable feeling for your idol to come in here. Unfortunately I hit the game-winning shot against his team, but coming in here respecting what I did was great.’’Follow @NYPostsports