Despite the relative ease of the first three wins in this series, the New York Knicks were going to have their work cut out for themselves on Sunday while attempting to sweep a proud Boston Celtics team out of the playoffs. Now that task will turn even tougher for New York, as Knick swingman and 2012-13 Sixth Man Award winner J.R. Smith will be suspended for Sunday's Game 4.
The NBA announced as much on Saturday evening, a day after Smith was ejected from New York’s Game 3 win for sweeping his elbows through Celtics guard Jason Terry and striking him on the chin. Watch Smith’s screwup, and the reaction from Knicks coach Mike Woodson that followed:
In some ways, the move was a technical basketball play. But because Smith made no effort to not hit Terry across the jaw, you could see his upcoming suspension a mile away. The Chicago Bulls' Richard Hamilton was suspended for just about the same thing earlier this season, and Hamilton doesn’t have near the record with the NBA’s league office for fines and suspensions throughout his career.
Following the game, Smith attempted to explain the move, with Woodson chiming in:
“I was trying to draw the foul,” Smith said. “He reached in one time. I thought he was going to reach in again a second time. I was going to try get a quick shot off, but they made a call that the refs saw. Not really much I could do about it.”
As soon as the elbow connected with 7:06 to go in the fourth quarter, Terry fell on his back, and the referee entered the picture. Smith was gone, headed down the tunnel.
“He’ll learn from it,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “I don’t think he was trying to hurt the kid, I thought he was trying to clear space. But they saw it differently and he had to exit the game. That’s something he’ll learn from, and I’m going to stay in his ear and make sure he learns from it.”
(Woodson calls 35-year-old Terry, who has been in the league since 1999, “kid.” That is fantastic.)
The Knicks will have more than enough offensive weapons in place to down the Celtics on Sunday, and this was going to be a dogfight with or without Smith’s presence. The offensively challenged Celtics should be the decided underdogs, but they could have enough in Game 4 to cobble together a response to Smith’s Game 3 bite.