Dennis Smith Jr. has been through his share of adversity this season. After an injury during training camp, a death in the family took the guard away from the team for two weeks.
On Thursday night, Smith Jr. shined for the Knicks as the team topped the Mavs 106-103 for their second win against Kristaps Porzingis this season.
In just his second game back with the team, Smith Jr. scored 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting, and also had a team-high eight assists to go along with six rebounds in 29 minutes.
"Game ball. I was so proud of him," David Fizdale said afterwards. "He's been through more than any of us can imagine. The kid had an incredible summer of work, and to get hurt right away in camp and get knocked from the loop, and then right when he gets back and trying to get healthy, he gets booed. That's tough for a young kid to get booed. And then his stepmom passes.
"Now he comes back to us and I think through all of it, what I said to him, what I've learned in my life at least is when you go through real adversity like losing a loved one, it gives you real perspective and you stop putting so much pressure on a game. He really had a great couple of days with us. I really thought that even though his numbers didn't show it Chicago, that game helped him get his legs underneath him, and he really let the game come to him (tonight) and he had a solid basketball game."
After playing just 14 minutes against Chicago on Tuesday in his first game back, Smith's playing time was ramped up in front of the home crowd on Thursday, and the point guard responded in a big way.
"I worked real hard this summer, so everybody on the team keeps telling me to keep trusting it, keep trusting it, so that's what happened," said Smith Jr.
"I'm just coming out trying to execute. "I'm just doing whatever I can to help us win. That's all that matters."
Fizdale spoke after the game about how he invites his players to have open conversations with him whenever they need to. Smith Jr. said that he stopped by the head coach's office earlier this week, just to chat, and he is very appreciative to be in his current situation with the Knicks.
"Grateful. Glad to be playing," Smith Jr. said. "Glad to be out here with these guys. Glad to have people that believe in me. Just a lot of gratitude."