GREENBURGH, N.Y. — J.R. Smith played dumb. The Knicks guard had just been asked about the performance of Jason Terry in Game 4, a performance that yielded Boston’s final 9 points of the game, in overtime.
That would be the same Jason Terry who goaded Smith into elbowing him in the face in Game 3, an offense for which Smith received a one-game suspension.
“Who?” Smith said. “I don’t even know who that is.”
It didn’t stop there.
Asked another question about Terry, Smith kept up the charade.
“Who?” he said again. “Who is that?”
And so, with the Knicks up, three games to one, in their first-round series against the Celtics, there has been another shot of adrenaline for Boston, courtesy of a player who seems completely confident in his own abilities and his own effect on the series.
Asked what would have happened had he been on the court in Game 4, Smith said, “Oh, yeah. It would’ve been over. I would’ve been playing golf today.”
The Smith narrative has had its ups and downs — and that’s just this past week. Eight days ago, Smith was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, and the focus was on his improvement, on his maturation, on the changes he had made.
Then came Friday.
In Game 3, with 7:06 to go in a game that was essentially over, Smith yielded to frustration and threw the elbow that landed him in hot water. He and the Knicks learned late Saturday that he wouldn’t be on the court for Game 4, a game the Celtics won courtesy of Terry’s late-game explosion and Carmelo Anthony’s insistence on taking 35 shots.
(Smith’s takeaway from the suspension? “Don’t throw elbows,” he said.)
The loss left the Knicks unable to take advantage of the rest a sweep would have provided. It also left them still in need of one more win to move on to the next round. They’ll have Smith back as they try to close it out at Madison Square Garden Wednesday.
“It’s very important to have him back,” said Knicks coach Mike Woodson. “We missed 18 points the other night [Smith’s average] and still put ourselves in position to win a ballgame.
“But J.R. is a big piece of the puzzle. I hope he’s learned his lesson. We’ve got to move on with it, and he’s got to be ready to go tomorrow night.”
But has he learned that lesson?
“I think so,” Woodson said. “I’ve been around him all year, even last season. He’s grown a lot.”
It’s a lesson not just for him, but for the whole team.
“Playoff basketball, anything is liable to happen,” Woodson said. “But for sure we’ve got to control our emotions.
“You can’t let one play or one shot — you just can’t let that deter how you play and how you finish games. Because we’re going to need everybody. We don’t need anybody getting kicked out of games or getting suspended.
“The beauty of playoff basketball, you put yourself in this position, you’ve got to make sure you see it through.”
Woodson wasn’t willing to blame the loss on the absence of Smith, or the pressure that put on Anthony, who had one of the worst shooting nights of his NBA career (10 for 35). But he knows that the Knicks — and Smith — can’t have a repeat of that lapse in Game 3.
Smith, too, knows it. But he was unbowed Tuesday, all talk and bravado.
He didn’t like watching Game 4, didn’t like being on the sideline, even though it provided a bit of a break for him. As he said, “Anytime you get rest it helps, but it’s not the kind of rest I wanted.”
Smith certainly didn’t like what happened in the end, calling it “very tough to watch, especially that first half.
“I wasn’t on the golf course or nothing. I watched the game, saw what happened. I wasn’t pleased with it. My teammates wasn’t, either. We have a chance to make up for it tomorrow.”
So, he was asked, how excited is he to get back on the court to try to close out the series against the Celtics?
“Extremely,” he said. “I can’t wait.”