by Zettler Clay IV
Who knew when the season started that J.R. Smith would have more game-winning buzzer-beaters than Carmelo Anthony by 2013?
In the Valley of the Sun, Smith made another step in his transformation from streaky gunner to clutch leader by ending the Suns’ hopes with another last-second shot. Before the game-winner, he nailed a tough turnaround jump shot at the top of the key to tie the game at 97 with 10.6 seconds remaining. On the ensuing possession, Sebastian Telfair accidentally stepped out of bounds to give Knicks the rock with one second left.
Cue the Knickerbocker heroics … and the demise of the Suns, who were already reeling from another Smith blow. Just before halftime, Phoenix’s Goran Dragic got out on the break when a streaking Smith ran by and clipped his right leg. Dragic fell in pain, left the game and didn’t return.
For those that are new around these parts, the Horry scale examines a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety Kings-Pistons game?), and celebration (is it over the top or too chill? Just the right panache or needs more sauce?), and gives it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, the patron saint of last-second daggers.
How does Smith’s shot Wednesday night stack up? Let’s take a look.
With one second left, Jason Kidd dished Smith an inbounds pass on the baseline. In a singular motion, J.R. turned right, launched a 21-foot left fallaway leaner over the outstretched arms of P.J. Tucker. The pass was on the money enough to give Smith just a sliver of daylight to get his shot off. The only thing Phoenix could have done is send a taller defender at him. Easier said than done, because then that taller defender would’ve had to keep up with Smith prior to the pass. Considering the elusive quickness of Smith, that’s a lot to ask for. In short, this was a tremendous shot.
Game knotted at 97 in regulation. A miss puts the game in overtime.
Playing without Anthony and Raymond Felton on the road and coming off a Christmas Day loss to the Lakers, the Knicks were faced with a test. A win over the Suns would not only notch their first win of the road trip, but establish the Knicks as a team that can get it done in sticky spots.
With the game close down the stretch, Smith made play after play to keep his team close. He tied the game at 97, then ended it with two more points. In the absence of ‘Melo, the Knicks have called on Smith twice at the end of games. Twice, their faith has been rewarded. Twice, on the road.
Steve Novak sees the ball drop in the net in front of him and jets to a jacked-up Smith. Beating his teammates there, he wraps his arms around Smith as Tyson Chandler and Kidd comes jumping over the top. James White joins, then Marcus Camby flies out of nowhere to mob his heroic teammate. More arrive as they slowly walk toward midcourt. Genuine brotherly happiness.
And then to top it off, J.R. busts out the Victor Cruz salsa dance.
4 1/2 Horrys. Some of you are thinking “whoa…easy now.” Four-and-a-half Horrys seems like a lot. The team wasn’t down. It was only the Suns. And he at least had a little room to get the shot off. All true. But so is this:
a) The Knicks were playing without their best player and starting point guard.
b) This was on the road. Road games are road games … whether the opponent is the Heat or Bobcats.
c) Smith led team down stretch, tying game on arguably a tougher shot than the coup de gras itself.
d) This was second time this season — this month — that Smith finished off team when his number was called.
e) The celebration unfolded organically; euphoric enough to play up the moment, cool enough to keep it in perspective.
From ‘c’ and ‘d’ alone, this was enough to elevate his standing.
What sayeth you?