NEW YORK – When J.R. Smith rose from the bench, the crowd at Madison Square Garden started to murmur. They erupted when he entered the game.
Smith is supposed to be next piece to the Knicks puzzle – another deadly long-range shooter at a time New York needed one. Smith lit up the Garden with three 3-pointers in the first quarter on his way to 15 points off the bench. But in the fourth, after the Knicks clawed out of a 10-point deficit, it wasn’t the big name signee that took over. It was Steve Novak.
Novak, the guy who was buried on the bench when the season started, just like Jeremy Lin. In fact, it wasn’t until Lin turned the Knicks into the biggest story in the league that Novak saw significant minutes. It was Lin again who helped Novak lead New York to a 104-97 win over the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
“The way we’ve been playing, guys haven’t been forcing things and are playing at a healthy pace and in the fourth quarter things just really opened up for me,” Novak said. “I think that’s how we’ve been able to win games. Everyone’s been playing their game and not forcing things.”
He could have been talking specifically about Lin, who found Novak on four of his career-high 14 assists in the fourth quarter. Novak hit four 3-pointers and scored all of his 14 points in the final period. His 3-pointer at the start of the fourth tied the score at 75 and started a run where he ran off 14 of the Knicks first 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“Novak played his game,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “He had open shots and scrambled around defensively. He’s helped change the complexion of their team because he's such a threat from the three-point line. We know all too well what he's capable of, and he's a very good piece for what they're doing."
Novak’s play has coincided directly with Lin’s meteoric rise and the Knicks’ run of 8 wins in 9 games. Lin’s ability to penetrate and draw in defenses created the space that a shooter like Novak needs. To put things into perspective, Novak has 43 made-field goals this season, 24 of which have been assisted by Lin.
The Knicks will soon be at full strength with Carmelo Anthony is expected to return Monday against New Jersey. Smith arrived in New York Friday and already played nearly 30 minutes Sunday. Baron Davis appears ready to join the lineup possibly as soon as Monday as well and Josh Harrellson (fractured wrist) will start practicing with the team next week.
Lin, who also scored 28 points Sunday, may not have only gotten Novak some open shots. Even with players returning, Lin may have helped Novak earn a permanent spot in Mike D’Antoni’s rotation as well.
“He’s gotta play somewhere,” the coach said. “We go to figure out some way. He’ll play. Everyone will play some. So, he keeps getting hot like that, he’ll play more.”
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