PHILADELPHIA (AP) — J.R. Smith realized how easily basketball can be taken from him, and he wasn’t going to take his place in the NBA for granted anymore.
Smith returned from a one-game benching for unsportsmanlike conduct and scored all of his 11 points in the game-turning second quarter Saturday night to help the New York Knicks to a 102-92 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Amare Stoudemire scored 21 points and Carmelo Anthony added 18 for the Knicks (14-22), who have won four straight.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, attack, get back to my old self, play with a chip on my shoulder and it worked,” Smith said. “It was very important for me as well as the team to get out there and be successful with scoring the ball and getting my teammates open shots.”
Knicks coach Mike Woodson benched Smith for the entire first quarter before inserting him at the start of the second. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year was benched on Thursday and was fined $50,000 by the league for unsportsmanlike conduct after untying or attempting to untie the shoelaces of opponents in two straight games.
“That’s the worst feeling in the world, someone takes the game away from you, especially something you love,” Smith said. “It’s all you know, you’ve been doing it your whole life.”
“Be serious, be a professional and don’t take this opportunity for granted,” Smith on the lesson he learned. “There’s a lot of people in the world who want our jobs and we can’t take it for granted. It can be taken away just that fast.”
Said Woodson: “It was a total team effort, not just about J.R. He played well and we’re going to need him to play well but I’m proud of everybody.”
Besides Smith, the Knicks got a boost from Stoudemire, who went 8 for 10 from the field.
“Fantastic,” Woodson said of Stoudemire’s performance. “He got stronger as the game went on. He was a force and defensively he was solid. He’s playing well and we have to keep him at that level.”
Anthony added nine rebounds and seven assists.
Spencer Hawes and James Anderson each had 17 points to lead the Sixers (12-25). Thaddeus Young chipped in 15 points for Philadelphia, losers of four in a row.
“It was a snowball effort,” Hawes said. “We didn’t put out the fire early enough.”
After outscoring the Sixers 32-12 in the second quarter to take a 52-40 halftime lead, the Knicks came out strong after the break. They scored the first four points to open their biggest lead to that point — 10:56 left in the third quarter.
The Sixers never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
“We put a full game together tonight,” Stoudemire said. “That was a great win for us.”
After dropping 13 of 16 to start the season, the Knicks have turned things around. Defense has been a big reason for their success of late. New York has given up just 87.3 points per game and limited opponents to 29.3 percent 3-point shooting during the winning streak that includes Thursday’s 102-92 home victory over defending champion Miami.
The Sixers, meanwhile, entered ranked last in the league in scoring defense (111.2 points per game) and have been even worse lately, allowing 113.3 points during their losing skid that followed a four-game road winning streak.
New York got a big boost from Smith in the second quarter that began with the Knicks down 28-20.
Smith nearly eclipsed his season average of 11.3 points per game entering Saturday in the second quarter alone, scoring 11 points by making all four of his field goals, including a pair of 3-pointers, to go with four assists and two rebounds.
“We got sloppy in that first quarter,” Woodson said. “We couldn’t stay at that pace. In the second quarter, we settled in and the defense picked up.”
The shoelace incident was the latest in a series of transgressions this season for Smith, who was fined $25,000 in November for sending a threatening Tweet to the Pistons’ Brandon Jennings. That followed a five-game suspension without pay to start the season due to a violation of the league’s anti-drug policy in the offseason.
“I’m still trying to find myself, trying to find the right way to be a professional,” Smith, a nine-year pro, said. “It’s a short span we get to play this game and I can’t be selfish with it, gotta think team first.”
NOTES: Kenyon Martin was charged with a Flagrant 1 foul with 8:53 left in the third quarter for elbowing Young. … Tyson Chandler (illness) missed his third straight game for the Knicks. New York also was without backup point guard Beno Udrih (knee). … Lavoy Allen (calf) missed his second straight game for Philadelphia. . Knicks baskets received the loudest cheers as there was a large contingent of vising fans among the 16,278 at the Wells Fargo Center. … Rapper Meek Mill, a Philadelphia native, was seated courtside.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)