Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
After the Knicks' win over the Mavericks on Thursday, Dennis Smith Jr. spent some time reflecting at his locker.
"It was kind of bittersweet for me, beating the team that traded me but my stepmom wasn't here to see it," Smith Jr. said. "…. I had to take some time out to myself and really digest something like that. She watched every game. Every single game. Even when I was in college.
She was a Tar Heel fan. When I went to NC State, she rooted for NC State. So it put things into perspective."
Smith's stepmother, a woman who helped raise the point guard, died earlier this month. He spent nearly two weeks away from the team mourning the loss. He's been back with the team since last Thursday and returned to the court on Tuesday.
Head coach David Fizdale felt the time away helped shift Smith Jr.'s perspective.
"I think all of us as adults can attest to the fact when you lose somebody close to you and suffer real-life adversity, it puts other things in perspective, especially your job," Fizdale said Friday. "He got back to playing, he started to look at this as more like a game instead of a job with pressure on him. Hopefully he can keep that mindset.
That mindset shift may have helped Smith Jr. turn in his best game of the season on Thursday. He had 13 points, a team-high eight assists and six rebounds in New York's win over Dallas.
"He's just attacking. He just kept getting into that paint. He made the right decision a lot of times. He really got Mitchell (Robinson) going," Fizdale said of Robinson, who had 16 points and eight rebounds off the bench. "Mitchell is a receiver. Mitchell needs guys to help him get shots. Dennis, by the plays he was making, made Mitchell look really good.
Before he left the team to mourn the loss of his stepmother, Smith Jr. had struggled with his shot in limited minutes. At one point, he was booed by a Garden crowd that wanted to see Frank Ntilikina playing ahead of him.
If Smith Jr. can continue to contribute, regularly, the way he did against Dallas, it changes things for the 3-9 Knicks.
For one, it gives Fizdale the kind of penetrating lead guard he's lacked for a large portion of the season.
Of course, if Smith Jr. plays his way into the rotation, it will be tough for Fizdale to find minutes for Smith Jr., Ntilikina and Elfrid Payton. But choosing between three productive point guards is a good problem for any coach to have.
On Thursday, Smith Jr. spent time watching film of Tony Parker to prepare for the Mavs game.
"Seeing how (Parker) get to the paint and things like that. I guess, the game, I guess I felt like I was TP. So I kept attacking and attacking. And trying to make things happen for my guys," he said.
After the game, Smith Jr. spent several minutes on the court with legendary point guard Baron Davis.
Smith Jr. said he idolized Davis growing up and the two now have a close relationship.
Davis' message to Smith Jr. on Thursday was simple.
"Just be me, that's it. That's really the gist of it," Smith Jr. told SNY. "…. He just told me to go out there and be myself and that he believes in me."
In addition to Davis, an ex-Knick, Smith Jr. received a lot of support from current members of the Knicks organization while he was away from the team. He said Robinson, Steve Mills, Scott Perry and Marcus Morris all showed significant support while he was mourning.
On Friday, someone asked Smith Jr. how much he needed to have the kind of game he did against the Mavs, given all that he's been through.
"A tremendous amount," he said. "I knew it was on the way though. I put my work in and I pray. I'm faithful. I've got a lot of faith in the man upstairs. I do that part of it, it's going to come back to me."