You know how some NBA players, like Oklahoma City Thunder star and league scoring leader Kevin Durant, don't like to take long-range quarter-ending shots because they don't want hucked-up heaves that miss to lower their field-goal and 3-point percentages? Well, you're not going to believe this, but New York Knicks sixth man J.R. Smith is not quite so concerned with his shooting efficiency ... and in the final seconds of the third quarter of Tuesday night's game against the Boston Celtics, fortune favored the always-bold Mr. Smith:
OK, so taking what the official play-by-play lists as a period-ending 29-foot jumper isn't really the same as chucking up a three-quarter-court prayer — I'll grant you that. Still, whether you're talking about 50-plus-footers or merely sprinting pull-up 3-pointers taken from two steps over mid-court, J.R.'s your man. There's no low-chance-of-success shot he won't take, in large part because perhaps no player in the league is more confident in his ability to make said shot. (The fact that he's missed right around two-thirds of his shots from beyond 25 feet this year hasn't served as much of a deterrent.)
But what's most noteworthy about the 3-ball — outside of the fact that it extended New York's lead to 15 points heading into the fourth quarter, a margin the Knicks would maintain for a 100-85 win over the C's — is that it was only his third long-range try in 25-plus minutes of floor time. Considering J.R.'s averaged six 3-point attempts per 36 minutes this season, the cutback's interesting ... and continues a recent trend.
In the Knicks' first 10 March games — five of which were played without Amar'e Stoudemire, who's out for the remainder of the regular season after undergoing a surgical procedure on his left knee, and five of which (and parts of two more) were played without Carmelo Anthony, who was sidelined by a right knee injury — Smith gunned in a major way, taking just under 19 shots and 8 1/2 3-pointers per game. He was not so successful, making less than 39 percent of his field goals and 35 percent of his 3s, and the Knicks went 4-6 amid a rough early-month schedule.
During the Knicks' current five-game winning streak, though, Smith has significantly curbed his beyond-the-arc enthusiasm, taking just under four triples per game, while showing an increased interest in attacking the rim. About 47 percent of J.R.'s shot attempts over the past five games have come inside the paint, according to NBA.com's stat tool, a giant increase over the 27.2 percent he's managing on the season, and it's paying off for him; Smith has made 69 percent of his shots in the restricted area during the Knicks' streak. All that attacking has also paid off in more trips to the foul line — he's averaging seven free-throw attempts per contest during the streak, double his per-game season average, and hitting at an 80 percent clip.
More layups, more foul shots and fewer 3-pointers — add it all up, and it's a recipe for nights like J.R. had on Tuesday, in which he scored a game-high 32 points on 13 for 24 shooting to give the Knicks a huge boost off the bench to extend their Atlantic Division lead over the longtime rival Celtics to 7 1/2 games. Smith also added seven rebounds, three steals, an assist and zero turnovers in 35 minutes, which made for a very — gasp! — efficient night for him. So long as he's still willing to chuck up those late-quarter tries, we'll let this narrative breach slide.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out the long-range bomb elsewhere, thanks to our friends at the NBA.
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