At this point, it's not exactly news that J.R. Smith is capable of remarkable, jaw-dropping feats on a basketball court. As a member of the Denver Nuggets in seasons past, we saw him finish lobs with 180-degree slams, hit 11 3-pointers in one game and nearly kill Gary Neal; as a member of the New York Knicks, we've seen him break out double-pump 180 windmills, nail improbable game-winners ... and, now, team up with point guard Pablo Prigioni to finish off the San Antonio Spurs in style:
With the Knicks up 18 points midway through the fourth quarter of their Thursday night matchup with San Antonio at Madison Square Garden, the Argentinian reserve point guard dribbled on the left wing well above the 3-point arc. Smith cuts in front of him, fading toward the left corner, marked by Spurs reserve Nando De Colo, who's intently watching Prigioni work on backcourt mate Patty Mills. As Prigioni dribbles right around a high screen from Knicks power forward Amar'e Stoudemire, De Colo is focused entirely on the ball, and has forgotten completely about his defensive assignment on Smith.
New York's sixth man smartly cuts behind his sleeping defender toward the rim; as Prigioni hits the right elbow and lets the pass go, Smith is already in the air. Just one problem: Prigioni didn't appear to be thinking that Smith was going to set up for a bullet and an easy layup, so he didn't put the ball up near the rim. Apparently, though, with J.R. Smith, that doesn't really matter. (As if we should be surprised.)
Seriously: Check out where J.R. got that pass. For him to catch it at his waist with his back to the basket, bring it up with two hands, take it to the rim with one and finish with the reverse ... well, if you're not sure just how sick that is, just check out the Knick bench's reaction. It's not quite on the order of Gerald Green's 2012-topping alley-oop of the year, but it's pretty dang impressive in its own right.
After the game, Smith said he was surprised not only Prigioni's delayed pass, but also by his own ability to finish it, according to Newsday's Al Iannazzone:
"Honestly, I thought he didn't see it,” Smith said. “It was kind of late. I jumped so early. I went backdoor and he threw it, it was kind of low, so I didn't think I was going to dunk it to be honest with you as high as I jumped."
Smith's teammate, center Tyson Chandler, didn't seem particularly surprised, though. As he told Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press, "J.R. does some amazing things. He's a freak of nature."
And unlike in the past, when Smith was an athletic specimen capable of doing just about anything he wanted on the basketball court but unable to fit comfortably into a defined role within a team dynamic, under Knicks coach Mike Woodson, he's been able to harness his freakish gifts to provide legitimately game-changing minutes off the New York bench.
On Thursday, he was again the team's best one-on-one creator outside of Carmelo Anthony, scoring 20 points on 9 for 17 shooting in the Knicks' 100-83 win. Beyond that, though, he also continues to play the full floor game with a consistency he hasn't before, grabbing five rebounds, dishing three assists and adding a steal and a block without a turnover in 27-plus minutes as the Knicks pulled away late to earn their second win of the season over the Southwest Division-leading Spurs.
Through 32 games, Smith really has proven to be every bit the bargain that he proclaimed himself to be before the season, giving the Knicks scoring punch, playmaking, rebounding and defense to help propel them to their unexpected 22-10 start. Highlight-reel plays like this are more than worth the price of admission all by themselves, but it's the other stuff Smith's doing that, if he keeps it up, could pay real dividends for the Knicks come playoff time.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, please feel free to check out the oop elsewhere, thanks to our friends at the National Basketball Association.
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