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Pressure Falls on J.R Smith After New York Knicks Fail to Sweep Boston Celtics

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Pressure Falls on J.R Smith After New York Knicks Fail to Sweep Boston Celtics
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New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith speaks to the media following his team's Game 2 victory over the Boston …

COMMENTARY | Whether or not you believe New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith deserved his one-game suspension for elbowing Boston Celtics guard Jason Terry in Game 3 of the Knicks-Celtics Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, one thing now appears undeniable -- Smith suddenly faces a lot more pressure to play well in his next game.

Quite simply, the shot to Terry's face has Smith needing to save face.

As expected, Smith was backed by some of his teammates (including Tyson Chandler, who won a championship with Terry two seasons ago, in Dallas), head coach Mike Woodson, and many Knicks fans in that they either subtly hinted or just outright declared that suspending Smith for Game 4 of the series was overboard on the NBA's part.

The Knicks Could Have Used Smith to Finish Off the Celtics

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. But, what was clear about that situation was that Smith's resulting absence probably cost New York a chance to close out Boston in what would have been the Knicks' first playoff series win, and sweep, since 2000, and their first series win and sweep in a seven-game series since a year earlier.

With a valiant second-half effort, the Knicks nearly paid the Celtics back for their four-game playoff sweep over New York two years ago, with a comeback victory that would have been the Knicks' largest in their postseason history, as New York rallied from 20 points down early in the third quarter to grab its only lead on a jumper by point guard Raymond Felton, with 1:17 left in regulation.

While Smith, the Knicks' second-leading scorer this season, was back in his hotel room, watching Game 4 on television, Felton stepped up with 27 points, including 16 in the third quarter, to trim a 59-39 deficit to just 68-65, heading into the final period. Ultimately, Boston pulled out a 97-90 victory in overtime, to send the series back to New York, for Game 5 on Wednesday night (May 1).

However, much of the Knicks' issues in the first half of Game 4 centered around their inability to get their offense going without Smith, who averaged 16.3 points per game (second on the team behind Carmelo Anthony) over the first three games of the series.

The Celtics' Game 4 halftime lead was already their third of the series, and their 54 points at halftime was only slightly more than the 53 and 48 points they had in the first two games of the series, respectively.

Yet, largely because of Smith not playing, New York's 19-point deficit at intermission in Game 4 was substantially more to overcome than the much smaller, single-digit halftime holes the Knicks erased in the opening two games of the series.

Thus, if Smith had shown just a little more restraint when Terry harassed him too much in Game 3, perhaps Felton's contributions in the second half of Game 4 would have put New York over the top to end the series, rather than having been reduced to a nice footnote during an overtime defeat.

Smith Needs a Good Effort and a Knicks Game 5 Win to Save Face

Now, Smith must play well in Game 5. If not, it could lead to the series rapidly taking on a whole new dynamic.

Although no NBA team has ever rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to win four straight games, a poor Game 5 showing by Smith could be enough for Boston to steal a win on the road and get the series back home for a Game 6.

If that were to happen, a heavy burden would instantly befall Smith and the Knicks, as they would have to avoid a deciding Game 7 after being in cruise control with a 3-0 series lead.

Of course, Smith can put that possibility to rest with a solid Game 5 in a potential New York victory. Otherwise, Smith's Game 3 elbow to Terry's face could prove to be a real thorn in the Knicks' side.

Jonathan Wagner is a New York Knicks beat writer for New York Sports Day and a weekly featured guest discussing the Knicks and other sports topics on the New York Sports Geeks internet radio show (powered by Sportsideo). Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanJWagner.

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