By Ben Horney, Knicks fan since '94
Sitting at 20-8, the franchise's best start in 16 years, the Knicks headed to Phoenix to play the Suns. But they were facing an unfortunate and often unavoidable obstacle during the long, rigorous NBA season: injuries.
Both Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton had been hurt during their Christmas day matchup against the Lakers a day earlier, meaning the Knicks would need to find a way to replace 44 of the 95 points they were averaging per game up to this point in the season (Anthony was averaging 28 points per game, Felton 16).
"Other guys have to step up," Coach Woodson told reporters before the game. "It's that simple."
The Knicks' "other guys" listened. J.R. Smith filled the void created by Anthony's absence, finishing with 27 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals. Jason Kidd, who was averaging eight points per game on the year, dropped 23 against his former team (his first 20+ point game of the season), and added eight assists and six rebounds. Chris Copeland, who was averaging six points per game on the year, had 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Tyson Chandler had 14 points and 12 rebounds. All 10 players who stepped on the court for the Knicks scored at least two points.
But despite all of these impressive contributions, the Knicks found themselves down, 97-95, with 16 seconds to play. J.R. Smith, as he had done a month earlier in Charlotte, when the Knicks were also without Anthony, eagerly accepted the role of go-to-guy as the clock wound down. He dribbled, spun and miraculously swished a fadeaway jump shot from the top of the key -- eliciting gasps of horror and shrieks of joy from Knicks fans all in one breath -- tying the game with just 10 seconds to play.
After a Suns turnover, the Knicks prepared to inbound the ball from half court with exactly one second to go. Smith stumbled around a Chandler screen, caught Kidd's inbounds pass and turned, flinging a wild, off-balance prayer as the buzzer sounded. It splashed the net, giving the Knicks the 99-97 victory.
With the shot, Smith became only the fourth player in the last 10 seasons to have two buzzer beaters in one month. His game-winner, along with the collection of huge performances from the Knicks' "other guys," put the Knicks at 21-8 on the year, and 3-2 without Anthony, their MVP candidate.
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