One day after being benched for the entire fourth quarter in a close game, JR Smith was given a second chance by head coach George Karl and sent a message through his effort on the court. That message: If you want to win close games, you better let me play.
JR single-handedly won us the contest tonight, scoring a game-high 23 points on 9-14 from the field, seven of which came in the last two-and-a-half minutes of playing time. At the 2:36 mark of the fourth quarter and things all tied up, JR made an extremely clutch driving lay-up that gave the Nuggets a two-point lead. Then, 33 seconds later with the clock running out and his teammates looking petrified to shoot, JR again took it upon himself to nail a 23-foot jump-shot. Kenyon Martin made a lay-in to give the Nuggets a comforting six-point lead with 1:38 to go, but it was JR who sealed the deal with a 3-pointer a little over a minute later.
After the game when asked about the inexplicably low amount of playing time he received Tuesday compared with what he saw Wednesday night, JR said he took it personal. Good for him.
We all know JR and Karl don’t have the best relationship, but at this juncture in time I’m beginning to get a little worried. JR is a free-agent after this season and we all know there will be plenty of teams lining up for his services. The problem for us is that nearly all of those teams will be offering JR a a hefty contract, as well as a starting job , which he won’t get here if he re-signs. When you pile this on top of his already dicey relationship with Karl it seems hard to imagine JR remaining in a Nuggets uniform for much longer. Of course, we don’t know for sure if this will be the case — JR has stated many times before how much he loves Denver and want to continue his career with the Nuggets — but it does appear likely.
“Why I am telling you this right now,” you might ask. Well, because I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I like winning basketball games, and as evident by tonight’s win over the Mavericks, JR helps us accomplish this goal. The days of the young loose-cannon who got in fights, disrespected opponents and had no limit to the amount of terrible shots he took are so far in the rear view mirror they’re completely out of sight. Unfortunate, George Karl seems to be the only one trying to revive those distant memories, and it’s consistently backfiring in the form of putting the team in danger of losing games.
You see, Karl treats JR like no other player on the team. He’s nipped at his leash for so many years, that it’s gotten to the point where he’s nearly choking the man. Some might argue that you have to take this approach when dealing with JR, but I have seen no evidence to support this theory in quite some time. I ask you this: When was the last time JR took a bad shot? Go ahead. Take your time. Sift through all those wild JR moments you have tagged in your brain and let me know when you get there.
Ok, you know what, stop. Now try this. Think of the most recent memory you have of Gallinari or Chandler or K-Mart or Al or even Ty Lawson taking a bad shot. You know what’s funny? I can think of a bad shot by each of those guys tonight that was just plain awful, yet you didn’t see any of them getting pulled and unjustifiably benched the rest of the game, did you? Absolutely not, because they don’t get the same treatment JR does from Karl. JR takes two bad shots, makes a careless pass here and there and he’s riding pine for the rest of the game; but Gallo can flop like a fish out of water until he fumbles the ball out of bounds in a pathetic attempt to draw contact and somehow that’s honorable or deserving of different a kind of standard? Hell, Gallo’s been here for little over a month and he already supplanted JR in minutes and the closing position at small forward, until tonight of course.
The double-standard Karl holds JR to is not only wrong, but it’s costing us games. (Yes, I just said that.) I know JR wasn’t playing the best Tuesday against the Thunder, but if you can honestly sit here and tell me he wouldn’t have made an impact on his home-floor in the fourth quarter of a tight game then I just can’t take you seriously as a Nuggets fan. He could have made a difference in that game and everybody at the arena knew it. That’s why they were chanting his name throughout the rafters in the fourth quarter. That crowd, although slow at first, was ready to erupt at any moment in time and JR is the only one who could have done it to the extent we needed to win the game. But, we lost and tonight JR showed us just how bad of a decision that was to limit his playing time so drastically. The funny thing is, it was JR who saved Karl’s rear-end tonight as we wouldn’t have even been in the predicament we were in had he not stubbornly refused to call a time-out when the Mavs went on a 15-2 run in the third quarter.
I’m going to end this diatribe because it’s gone on long enough, just like the unfair treatment of JR that Karl continues to impose. It needs to end. JR is a great basketball player and perhaps the very best on our team. There’s no reason to proceed with this nonsense, especially as the playoffs draw near. Playing some kind of childish game with with JR is not going to get us anywhere, and it’s not going to make him any better of a basketball player. Sure, get on him when he does something bad, but get on everyone else when they do something bad too!!! I don’t mind benching guys for doing stupid stuff, but you need to hold everyone to that standard if that’s how you want to do things!
(Ok, sorry about that. I’ve had that frustration built up for a while and I figured there was no better time to release it than after this game.)
That’s pretty much it for tonight guys. That rant took quite a while, so I hope you get something out of it. Kind of a different type of re-cap but sometimes the traditional stuff gets old, ya know? I guess I was just so enthused by the performance I saw from JR tonight that I just couldn’t help myself. Here is the box-score in case you want to check out some individual performances. Also, please leave any comments regarding the game — other than JR — below, as there was some notable events that took place and I know you guys are always great about bringing up important points. But if you’d like to comment on the JR/Karl relationship and how it affects the team that would be welcome as well. Pretty much whatever.
Next up is Oklahoma City on Friday. The Thunder clinched the division tonight so congrats to them, but I ask you this fellow members of Roundball: What would you rather have, a division title or series win in the playoffs? I have a feeling if the Thunder face us in the first round they likely won’t get both.