Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The 'Odd Couple' combines for 15 treys
By Jared Zwerling
One is a Midwestern white guy who is outgoing and has no tattoos. The other is a laid-back black dude from inner-city New Jersey who has plenty of tattoos.
While they are complete opposites in person, they share a bond from the practice court to NBA arenas. For Steve Novak and J.R. Smith, they're all about the 3-point shot -- the shot that completely derailed the Celtics Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
"They put on a shooting clinic," Tyson Chandler said.
After a close first quarter, with the Knicks up 32-26, Novak and Smith went off in the second. While Smith had five 3-pointers, Novak had four. At the buzzer, the Knicks had made a total of 11 3's -- the most ever in a second quarter -- and they had 14 at halftime, which tied the record for most in a half in NBA history. (The Bucks made that many against the Suns on March 28, 2006.)
By the end of the Knicks' 118-110 win, they had 19 3-pointers -- the second-most in a game in franchise history. Novak had eight treys and Smith had seven. And the "Odd Couple" had 25 points apiece.
"It was great," Novak said. "I got it going. Hitting those shots, it was super-contagious. They were falling."
"It was a great feeling," Smith said. "We were catching the ball like it was shooting practice and letting it go."
During his postgame press conference, Mike Woodson credited the team's pace and pick-and-roll playmaking picking up for enabling Novak and Smith to get more open looks.
"Our pick-and-roll offense was really working," Woodson said. "Our spacing was great and guys were finding the right guys, and they were open. It was just a total team effort."
Carmelo Anthony, especially, had a knack for finding guys, which has been a rarity in his career. In fact, prior to tonight, he only had one previous triple-double in his NBA career. On Feb. 5, 2007, he had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against the Suns, as a member of the Denver Nuggets. Against the Celtics on Tuesday night, he had 35 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
Scouts around the league consider Anthony to be a guy who usually has tunnel vision when he drives to the basket, not looking at his teammates, but only at the rim. But on Tuesday he was making a conscious effort to dish it out, and his ability to do that facilitated quicker ball movement around the perimeter to Novak and Smith.
"We did a great job penetrating. We got to the middle and were able to find guys," Smith said. "Melo did a great job of finding the open man. I mean, when we get to the middle of the paint and we've got our heads up looking for guys, and our shooters are hitting shots, we're going to be tough to beat."
After the game, Smith said one of the main reasons he and Novak were signed by the Knicks -- Novak on Dec. 21, Smith on Feb. 17 -- was to feed off of Anthony's double-teams. The team needed shooters in kick-out situations, and Novak and Smith have obviously proven their value in that department.
Since they've been on the team together, they've challenged each other to be better from beyond the arc. In fact, during practices they have 3-point shooting contests. Who comes out on top? Novak.
"All the time," Smith said, laughing. "Even today. I was 7-for-10 and he was 8-for-10, so he won again. It's very competitive. Between he and I, I mean, every other day is a, 'I'll take it, you take it.' It's tough, but it's fun. It makes it even better in the games because we're actually on the same team."
Smith went on to give the highest praise to his sidekick.
"He's the best 3-point shooter in our league, by far. I mean, it's not even close," he said. "People are starting to catch on to it, but not fast enough."
Smith said that he respects Novak so much as a shooter that he looks for him first -- even over Anthony -- when he's bringing the ball up the court.
"To be honest with you, when I get the ball in the fast break, he's the first person I'm trying to find, no matter who's out there or what's the scenario," Smith said. "If he's open, I'm trying to get him the ball as soon as possible."
Novak knows it, too.
"If he doesn't have a shot, I feel like he's always looking for me," he said. "For him to be able to shoot the ball like he can, and find guys, he's so hard to guard."
Woodson loves the balance Novak and Smith have given the Knicks off the bench. He said both of them put a lot of pressure on opposing teams. However, he knows he has his work cut out for him, to help maintain what the duo has been doing.
"[Novak] had a lot of great looks and he knocked them down," Woodson said. "As we go along, those shots will become tougher because teams watch tape and they're not going to leave him. So we've just got to find ways that we can get him good looks and hope that he's open."
For now, life downtown is all good. At least for Smith, this has been the most fun he's ever had in his career.