GREENBURGH, N.Y. — J.R. Smith may have altered a series with one poor decision. He certainly forced his midweek plans to change.
When he dropped Boston’s Jason Terry with an elbow to the chin late in Game 3 on Friday night, Smith earned a suspension that left the New York Knicks without their No. 2 scorer during the regular season for Game 4 on Sunday.
The Knicks didn’t have enough offense without him, losing 97-90 in overtime as Terry, not the Sixth Man of the Year, hit the big shots off the bench.
Had Smith been available, perhaps this series would already be over.
“It would’ve been,” Smith said Tuesday. “I would’ve been playing golf today.”
Instead, he was practicing for Game 5.
The Knicks will host it Wednesday, their second attempt to close out their first series victory since 2000.
“We want to end it,” leading scorer Carmelo Anthony said. “We came this far, did our job at home first two games, did our job on the road, got one on the road. We’ve got the opportunity to end it here on our home court.”
The Knicks won the first three games, holding the Celtics to an average of 75 points, before Boston broke out — sort of — on Sunday. The Celtics scored 54 points in the first half and led by 20 early in the third quarter before their offensive struggles returned, and they were limited to just 30 points in the third and fourth quarters.
Clean up those bad stretches, and the Celtics think they can keep climbing out of the mess they created for themselves.
“There’s that one quarter where we have mental lapses,” forward Paul Pierce said. “They pick up the energy. They pick up the defense, and they have us on our heels, so we have to be cautious of that.”
The Knick had their own problems Sunday, shooting 34 percent from the field and making just 7 of 30 3-pointers (23 percent). Anthony, perhaps feeling pressure to force things with Smith unavailable, scored 36 points but was 10 of 35, missed all seven 3-point attempts and committed seven turnovers.
Smith averaged a career-best 18.1 points during the regular season, and his recognition as the NBA’s top reserve was as much a credit to his improved maturity and decision-making as it was to his scoring streaks.
But those qualities went missing Friday when Smith threw his elbow into Terry with the Knicks 7:06 away from wrapping up an easy victory. Coach Mike Woodson appeared to be lecturing Smith before he left the court, and they had another talk Sunday.
“We had a major discussion before he left Boston to come to New York,” Woodson said. “J.R.’s in a good place. We’re fine with J.R.”
But the Knicks’ offense wasn’t. Though Raymond Felton continued his excellent series with 27 points Sunday, the Knicks’ bench that had dominated Boston’s managed only seven points. Terry scored 18 by himself.
“We missed 18 points the other night and still put ourselves in position to win the ballgame,” Woodson said. “J.R. is a big piece to the puzzle and I hope he’s learned his lesson, and we’ve got to move on with it and he’s got to be ready to go tomorrow night.”
No team has blown a 3-0 lead in the NBA playoffs, so the Knicks remain confident, especially after rallying to take a fourth-quarter lead Sunday. The Celtics would send the series back to Boston for a Game 6 on Friday with a victory, and they know the only way they can get it is by coming out with the same energy they had Sunday.
“Without a doubt. We have to bring it. It’s the only way we have a chance to win the game. We just have to play all out,” forward Jeff Green said.
“We can’t go in with the same outlook (as Game 4), because I’m pretty sure they’re going to have different schemes on how they’re going to attack the pressure situations and how we came at Melo.”
A strong game from Smith would be the easiest way for the Knicks to address that, but they insist he doesn’t owe them one after being forced to watch Game 4 from the hotel.
“We all owe each other a good game tomorrow,” Woodson said. “It’s not on just J.R.’s head. Everybody’s got to play well to come out of here with a win.”