J.R. Smith, the man who caused a stir in the fourth quarter of Game 3 Friday night against the Celtics, spent Saturday night at the Red Sox game, or so he tweeted. His fate was in the hands of the NBA, which was reviewing tape of his takedown of Jason Terry, a significant lapse in judgment that has reverberations going forward.
Because, as the Knicks attempt to sweep the Celtics on Sunday, they’ll be doing it without Smith. The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year was suspended for Game 4, the league announced Saturday night.
Smith had been issued a Flagrant-2 foul during Friday’s game, after his elbow connected with Terry’s face with 7:06 to go in the fourth quarter, causing Terry to end up on the floor. Terry had to be restrained from going after Smith, while the Knick jogged straight down the tunnel and into the locker room.
Smith had been given a Flagrant-1, which was upgraded upon review, in game that had long been decided. That ruling meant an immediate ejection. It also meant that the NBA had the opportunity to add a suspension and/or fine.
The Knicks, though, spent the day voicing their support for Smith, who has had his moments of immaturity throughout his career, but who had seemed to be settling down and succeeding.
For Smith, it was a step back. And it was a step back that might hurt his team, which was hoping to close out Boston in four games, thus buying itself potentially a week of rest.
“We’ve got other guys in uniform that’s got to step up and play,” coach Mike Woodson said Saturday before the ruling had come down. “It’s kind of been that way all year when we’ve had injuries. Guys have stepped up and helped us win basketball games.
“So if J.R. is missing, we’ve got to be ready to put guys in and play. I don’t know who is going to play the minutes but we’ll figure it out as we go along.”
Though many of Smith’s teammates said that they did not believe a suspension was warranted, there was precedent for the move. The NBA had suspended the Bulls’ Rip Hamilton for one game two weeks ago for elbowing DeMar DeRozan. Hamilton had been given a flagrant 2 and ejected from that game, as Smith was in Game 3.
With the win Friday night, the Knicks went up, 3-0, in the series, putting the Celtics on the brink of elimination.
Smith has scored 49 points in the first three games of the series, serving as the team’s second scoring option behind Carmelo Anthony.
Smith had said after Game 3 that he was trying to draw the foul on Terry. He insisted the elbow wasn’t intentional. Terry clearly didn’t agree, but the guard declined to comment on the incident Saturday, except to admit that it would motivate him.
“Jason is a crafty vet,” said his former teammate and current Knick Tyson Chandler. “He definitely knows how to get under people’s skin. That’s why you’ve got to love him. That’s why I enjoyed playing with him.
“It’s just playoff basketball. I don’t think anybody’s intention is to hurt anybody out there or throw any illegal anything that could hurt a player. I think it’s just two guys going after it, playing hard.”
Chandler added, “I don’t think there should be any suspensions there. I don’t think it was a case of immaturity at all. I think it was a kind of heat-of-the-moment thing, trying to create space. It looked bad. I think it looked kind of worse than it maybe actually was.”
Anthony said that Smith had addressed the situation with his teammates.
“For the most part I thought we’ve been pretty good at that, leaving the refs alone, playing through anything that we felt, non-calls and things like that, keeping our focus throughout the course of the game,” Anthony said. “I thought we’ve been pretty good up until that incident with J.R.”
Woodson had said after Game 3 that he was going to “stay in [Smith’s] ear and make sure he learns from it.” Asked if that had happened yet Saturday, Woodson said, “I just told him that he’s got to keep his cool. But I want him to still play hard. I don’t think he was trying to hurt anyone.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.