J.R. Smith couldn't carry the Knicks to a win in Portland. Credit: Getty Images J.R. Smith led the Knicks with 20 points.
Credit: Getty Images

The Knicks saw the best and worst in what J.R. Smith has to offer this season in Monday night's 90-83 win over the Jazz.

Smith had about as awful a first half as could be afforded for the shorthanded Knicks (39-26) as he tallied just two points on 1-of-6 shooting. But the second half featured a more composed and under control Smith, as he finished with a game-high 20 points, including a couple of dagger jumpers late to seal Utah’s fate. The mercurial Smith led the Knicks on a crucial 12-1 run in the third quarter to get the win.

The sometimes-erratic shooting guard wasn’t alone in putting forth a great effort, as the undermanned Knicks had arguably their best team effort of the season. Raymond Felton added 19 points; Chris Copeland added 14 points; Jason Kidd stuffed the box sheet with seven points, three rebounds, five assists and a steal; and Kurt Thomas played what might’ve been the gutsiest performance of any Knicks player this season.

 

The 40-year-old Thomas, who is suffering from a bone spur in his foot, gave the Knicks a valiant effort with six points, three rebounds and three blocks in a season-high 27 minutes. Thomas, the oldest player in the NBA, acknowledged he initially hurt his foot last Thursday in Portland and decided to play through it in Los Angeles on Sunday. He’ll undergo an MRI when he gets back to New York on Tuesday.

The Knicks might’ve been severely banged-up sans Carmelo Anthony (knee) and Tyson Chandler (neck), but it was the Jazz who were the ones that looked rudderless most of the game. The Jazz are now losers in nine of their last 11 games and helped the Knicks avoid a 0-5 showing on their crucial West Coast swing.

What we learned ...

1. No ordinary rookies

Monday night marked the first time in the Knicks’ long and storied history they started two undrafted rookies in the same game. Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland aren’t usual rookies, as the former is 35 and the latter is 29, but their poise and skill set— undoubtedly seasoned by years playing overseas— were great attributes in helping to steady a Knicks squad that was undermanned and spiraling out of control. Prigioni only had three points and three assists, but it was his influence in running the offense that allowed Felton to shift to scoring guard and play off the ball. Copeland added 14 points (11 in the first half) and six rebounds in his second-consecutive solid outing.

2. Painting the interior

The Knicks have been undersized all season, even when their bigs were healthy, so it’s almost inconceivable to believe they out-produced the much larger Jazz in the post. New York held a 32-20 advantage in points in the paint, as Utah failed to capitalize on their size mismatches at almost every position. Utah’s quartet of bigs— Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter— combined for just 39 points and 31 rebounds.

3. Winning the old-fashioned way

The Knicks didn’t try to outscore the Jazz, as they usually try to do, and instead went retro by simply taking care of the ball and playing stifling defense. New York came into the game leading the league in fewest turnovers per game (12.1) and finished with 12 Monday night. They also forced the Jazz into poor shot selection en route to 38 percent shooting, as no Utah player scored more than 17 points and no one made more than six field goals.

Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.

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