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Throwback Thursday: J.R. Smith’s Elbow and the Last Good Week for the Knicks

Friday, April 26, 2013 is the last time I really felt good about the Knicks. J.R. Smith was holding the ball right before my hopes were dashed, which is unsurprising considering how many fans saw their aspirations buried by his shovel.

The Knicks had a 2-0 series lead over the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, and were up by 19 points in the game when Jason Terry swiped at the ball, and Smith responded with a violent elbow to the chin, putting Terry on his back and getting him ejected from the game.

The Knicks won 16 of their last 18 regular-season games, including a 13-game winning streak, catapulting New York past the Pacers to grab the second seed in the East. At 54-28, it was without question the best season the team had since those great Patrick Ewing-led teams, and their second winning record since the 2001-2002 season.

To boot, Smith was sensational that year, playing in 80 games off the bench and setting career highs in minutes, field goals attempted, field goals made, free throws attempted, free throws made, rebounds and points. Those big numbers for a premier team in the Eastern Conference was good enough to earn him the Sixth Man of the Year award, and cement him as a core member of a Knicks team poised for a big playoff run.

Those last five weeks leading up to the elbow were fantastic, and it all ended with one swoop of the arm. The Knicks held on to the lead in that game to go up 3-0, but lost the next one with Smith suspended and one more just to make fans nervous. The confidence was sucked out of the team and the city, and the Pacers finished off the hopes of everyone involved in six games in the next round.

The next year was the same old Knicks that everyone was used to since 2001-2002, with the team winning 37 games and missing the playoffs, and without a first-round pick to show for it. The Phil Jackson era began, the team signed Lamar Odom with one day left in the season, which lasted all of two and a half months.

Things only got worse: Tyson Chandler trade, the Carmelo Anthony injury, the deal to send the cavalry to Cleveland so Iman Shumpert and Smith could save the Cavaliers’ season.

Hopefully all of New York (and probably the people of Denver who haven’t had their long-term memory impaired as well) took some solace in watching Smith disappear against the Warriors in the NBA Finals, even if some part of them thought he was actually going to heave them back into Game 6 in the final moments.

Of course, that little bit of happiness at the expense of Smith and the Cavs is fleeting, and those moments would’ve been a reason to think back to the last good weeks for the Knicks back in April 2013.

What really got me remembering the good times was this past week though. For all the crap they took for selecting Kristaps Porzingis and striking out on Greg Monroe in free agency, it feels like the first time in a long time the Knicks strung a good week together.

They drafted a high-upside guy with a rare first-round pick they actually kept for themselves, and traded Tim Hardaway Jr. for another first-rounder to select Jerian Grant, even though Hardaway’s trade value should’ve been non-existent.

Striking out on Monroe isn’t like missing out on LeBron, and Knicks fans should just be happy they didn’t go out and deal with rejection by giving $100 million to an always-injured, uninsurable big man who’s a step ladder on defense.

Grabbing Arron Afflalo on a short-term deal makes the team competitive in 2015 without screwing anything up down the line, and adding Robin Lopez gives them a legitimate starting center but doesn’t make them a team that relies on that center to win games on his own. Kyle O’Quinn might not be a household name, but he’s a big, strong local kid who at least gives me someone to root for.

There should be no delusions about what the Knicks are, which is a bad team in an Eastern Conference that could let a bad team sneak into the playoffs. As good as Carmelo is, it seems doubtful that he’ll ever win another playoff series in blue and orange, and chances are the Knicks won’t be serious contenders under Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher.

That’s okay, because after spending most of my life — and especially the last two years — in Knicks hell, contending for a championship is too much to ask from the basketball gods. I’m just happy to have a good week. I have little faith in the Triangle offense, but I hope the Knicks can continue to have some good weeks occasionally next year.

And maybe, just maybe, #Quinnsanity strikes New York City and we can string a few of those good weeks together.

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