- Last Updated: 6:06 PM, March 8, 2013
- Posted: 1:39 AM, March 8, 2013
Well, of course he was going to take the last shot. Of course he was. The Knicks weren’t where they were last night — down 95-94 to the star-spangled Thunder, with the ball, 7.9 seconds left on the clock — if J.R. Smith hadn’t been the very essence of J.R. Smith all night.
So they were in the game, because Smith scored 32 points in the second and third quarters, because every time Oklahoma City looked like it was going to run away and hide, Smith would make another of his absurd shots, fading away, turning around, bing, bam, boom.
But there is an equal and opposite chemical reaction to that: it also meant the Thunder were back in the game because Smith missed six of his first eight shots in the fourth quarter, because as always there is gravity in play in Smith’s quintessential games.
Because, as always, you take the good with the bad with Smith.
You take the ridiculous with the sublime.
And hope for the best.
“I played well,” Smith would say later, “but I would feel better about all of it if we would’ve won the game.
Yes. He missed. He missed, and didn’t get an especially good look at the basket, and so the Knicks settle for the 1-1 back-to-back they figured they were getting with the Pistons and the Thunder. They don’t get to steal one that would have had the Garden’s concourses and corridors buzzing straight through to the Big East Tournament next week.
They don’t get what would have been a magnificent catapult to the difficult days ahead, starting tomorrow at home against the Jazz before embarking on what could well be a season-defining five-game tour of the Mountain and Pacific time zones next week.
“We played our hearts out,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “I tip my hat to our guys.”
Normally, this is where the cynics and the skeptics grapple for position to swat that pleasing spin, the way Dikembe Mutombo would in a Geico commercial. Normally, kudos for leaving hearts on the floor is best left to high schoolers and collegians and rec-league heroes. Woodson knows that. He played for Bobby Knight. Knight is pals with Bill Parcells.
Parcells always said: “There’s no medals for trying.”
And the Knicks don’t get anything for the trying part; that’s supposed to be standard, that’s supposed to be an every-night thing, and that’s something they likely will have to keep in mind tomorrow before the Jazz break to a 29-12 lead on them early in the second quarter.
What was intriguing was the way the Knicks locked down the Thunder on defense, up and down the roster, allowing just 60 points across the final three quarters. What was impressive were the 17 hard minutes Kenyon Martin turned in, the six fouls he drew (and earned), the way he summoned a couple of old Knicks ghosts by making a few Okies taste hardwood rather than make lay-ups.
You almost could see the ghost of Charles Oakley, almost hear him cackle.
“That’s the only way I know how to play, man,” Martin said later on, and if that was the length and breadth of his pitch for regular minutes, it was more than enough for most of the 19,033 who were delighted to see the Melo-free Knicks stay stride-for-stride with the defending Western Conference champs.
The question, naturally, is this: is that contagious?
Woodson has been preaching all year about how the Knicks are good enough to run with the NBA’s elite and maddening enough to slosh with its dregs, and on one level you have to admire that because it isn’t exactly the kind of slogan you want to slap on your Coach-of-the-Year campaign placards.
Still, missing Carmelo Anthony and his 28 points a game, facing Oklahoma City and its run-and-shoot thrillers, they were right there with 7.9 seconds left in the game, down a point, the Garden on its feet, the ball in Smith’s hands ....
Bad ending for the night. But maybe a hopeful beginning, too. No medals for trying. Still not a bad place to start, if this is the brand of basketball we’re going to see for the duration.Follow @NYPostsports