J.R. Smith’s absence is not the primary reason the Knicks suffered an overtime Game 4 loss in Boston. However, New York missing its second leading scorer, spark off the bench, and offensive and defensive impact player certainly didn’t help its cause Sunday.
First of all, the Knicks rotation will instantly return to form with Smith’s appearance on the floor. Barring any early foul issues, head coach Mike Woodson substitutes Smith for Pablo Prigioni at the seven-minute mark of the first quarter. In Game 4, Jason Kidd was forced into action at the midpoint of the period. Smith is also used in crunch time next to Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Carmelo Anthony, and either Kenyon Martin or Tyson Chandler. A balanced rotation is essential in the postseason for players to understand their roles and assignments.
What’s overlooked in Smith’s game is his ability to rebound, defend, and pass. In the months of March and April, Smith averaged over six boards per game. He was also a menace on the defensive end of the floor – guarding some of the elite wing players in the league. Jason Terry scored nine crucial points in the overtime session on Sunday. Smith will receive the defensive assignment on the streaky shooting Terry in Game 5, which could become a key matchup down the stretch.
Offensively, Smith is the second most used player on New York’s roster. His usage percentage increased to over 30 in the months of March and April. To put that number in perspective, Kevin Durant's usage percentage for the season is 29.8.
As a prolific offensive weapon, Smith will help stretch the Celtics defenders out of the lane and provide another option aside from Anthony. The Sixth Man of the Year has also developed into an elite slasher that will accumulate a significant number of free throw attempts.
Felton confirmed Smith’s importance after the Game 4 defeat, “J.R. was definitely missed today. You have a guy who is the second leading scorer on our team. He’s averaging over 18 points a game; he’s a guy who hits tough, big shots for us down the stretch. We definitely miss him – definitely offensively for sure.”