For One Night At Least, J.R. Smith Puts It All Together

J.R. SmithAdmit it, those of you who read me regularly, you thought it ridiculous when I asked if J.R. Smith might mean more to Denver than Chauncey Billups. In my defense, I was more trying to make a point about the kind of team Denver is, and how it puts together wins, than actually saying that Smith was the team's MVP. ↵
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↵Then again, that was based on Smith-as-flamethrower off the bench with his excitable 3-point bombs and YouTube-ready dunks. Monday night, another Smith was on display in Game 4 against the Lakers: A multitalented guard who set up his teammates, made plays on defense, and used his offensive weapons strategically, not like a man possessed. And while Nene and Kenyon Martin had excellent games down low, it was the Nuggets' other great recovery story (along with Chris "Birdman" Andersen) who contributed most to the win. ↵
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↵Yes, Billups was solid, and he provided wisdom, gravitas and championship experience that no doubt empowered all who came into contact with him. Smith, though, looked for a stretch like the team's best point guard while also wreaking havoc in the lane and finishing up with his trademark pyrotechnics. It was a stunningly complete game for a player who isn't exactly known for reliability or all-around competence. And it was in keeping with Smith's series thus far, as he further shows the maturity he's developing even as coach George Karl acknowledges the need to give the 23-year-old room to take risks. Smith's shot hasn't been falling against the Lakers, but he has been finding other ways to contribute. ↵
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↵It's no coincidence that in Game 4, as Smith played such smart ball that he had the curmudgeonly Jeff Van Gundy and moralistic Mark Jackson tripping over themselves to praise him, Denver's offense came back. And although his 24 points are hardly a remarkable total for him, they are the most impressive 24 points of his rocky career. This wasn't unlike the evolution Carmelo Anthony has undergone this season. With Smith, however, it happened abruptly, over Monday's four quarters. Not only did he show off all facets of his game as never before, he fused them with what had made him special, if problematic, before.
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↵Putting too much stock in a single playoff game is questionable—just ask certain GMs about that. But in Smith's case, this one has been a long time coming. I'll take the bait: This performance was that of a star being born. And with 'Melo barely present, it couldn't have come at a better time for Denver. ↵

↵For more NBA coverage, visit SportingNews.com's new NBA blog, The Baseline. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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