Carmelo Anthony may be Denver’s best player and Chauncey Billups is Denver’s unquestionable leader, but J.R. Smith may be the Nuggets’ difference-maker.
Anthony dropped a playoff career-high 42 points in Game 1 against the Utah Jazz, but it was Smith who turned a close game into a 126-113 blowout in favor of the home team Nuggets.
The game was tied at 90 in the fourth quarter when Smith went wild, scoring the Nuggets’ next 11 points (including three consecutive 3-pointers) to give Denver a 101-93 lead en route to a 1-0 series lead in the first round.
It was classic J.R. Smith – or, should I say, J.R. Swish.
Smith buried four of 10 shots from behind the arc and finished with 20 points in 27 minutes off the bench.
Each shot was taken without conscience or any regard for where he was on the court. Here’s a warning to the Jazz: when J.R. Swish exits the team bus, he is within shooting range. He has unlimited range and never seems to be concerned about shot selection, which at times drives his coaches crazy.
“You get a lot of opinions of J.R.,” Nuggets acting coach Adrian Dantley told the Denver Post. “I’m a J.R. fan. I might take some heat for leaving him in the game. When I visited Coach [George] Karl yesterday, we all made some comments about J.R., but I play J.R. more minutes than Coach Karl.”
There’s a high risk, high reward with Smith. He is a streak shooter who can shoot the Nuggets into victories and can shoot the Nuggets into losses. But when he’s on, the Nuggets are nearly unbeatable, which is why Karl and Dantley tolerate his immaturity.
And if the Nuggets are going to advance to the next round and be in contention for a NBA title, they are going to rely on J.R. Smith to provide some much-needed instant offense.