The New York Knicks boast two of the most electrifying offensive players in the NBA: scoring champion Carmelo Anthony and Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith. When these stars get hot, they play like an NBA Jam tandem and make the Knicks seemingly unbeatable.
Sometimes, though, as has been evident in New York’s last two games against the Boston Celtics—both losses—Anthony and Smith can go cold.
When they do, the team looks completely lost offensively.
Anthony can’t be asked to score 35-plus points every single night. It’s impossible. When his shot is falling and he is in a good rhythm, the Knicks almost always just give him the ball, get out of his way and win the game.
However, Boston has defended the NBA's scoring leader better than any team has all year, forcing him into horrendously inefficient performances over the past two games.
Anthony went 10-35 from the field (28.6 percent) in the Knicks’ overtime loss in Game 4. In Game 5, he connected on just 8-24 of his field-goal attempts as Boston narrowed what was a comfortable 3-0 lead for the Knicks to a tight 3-2 series.
Smith, who averaged 22.0 points per game in the season’s final two months, is shooting 38.3 percent from the field in the team’s first-round series against Boston. In Game 5, Smith embarrassed himself by taunting the Celtics, notably Jason Terry, and then missing his first 10 shot attempts.
Anthony and Smith are great when they’re feeling it and probably one of the best scoring duos in the league.
Who will step up for the Knicks in Game 6?
But the Knicks can’t rely solely on them, because the team has other players capable of getting it done in the postseason.
Raymond Felton has given New York 18.6 points and 5.0 assists per night this series, but on average is taking 11 fewer shots than Anthony. Felton can run the pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler successfully nearly every time down the floor, but too often he gets caught up watching Anthony or Smith work in isolation.
Chris Copeland, the 28-year-old rookie who the Knicks signed from Belgium, can score in bunches. Coach Mike Woodson doesn’t like to play Copeland, though, because he is noticeably inept on the defensive end of the floor.
With Steve Novak out for Game 6 (back spasms per ESPN.com), Woodson may have no other choice than to give the rookie a shot. Copeland has played just 24 minutes this series and has yet to score. If given a chance, however, he could be the answer offensively when Anthony and Smith are struggling.
Iman Shumpert has quietly picked up his game in the team’s last two losses. The second-year guard is averaging 12 points and nine rebounds over the Knicks' previous two contests in addition to playing tremendous defense on several different Celtics.
Coach Woodson has two superstars at his disposal, but he has other options too.
The Celtics are too good and too proud of a team to let Anthony and Smith light them up. As Boston is putting all of its defensive effort toward New York’s top two scorers, the Knicks need to trust that players like Felton, Copeland and Shumpert can get it done.