NEW YORK (Reuters) - Carmelo Anthony’s scoring prowess has powered the New York Knicks all season but he may need someone to fill the role of sidekick in order to stave off playoff elimination against the Indiana Pacers.
With defensive-minded Indiana focused on stopping Anthony, a potent second option could swing the balance as the Knicks seek a win on Saturday that would extend the Eastern Conference semi-finals to a decisive seventh game on Monday in New York.
J.R. Smith filled the role most of the season, earning Sixth Man of the Year honors in the process, but he has been ice cold since a one-game suspension for throwing an elbow during the opening-round series against the Boston Celtics.
A new contender emerged Thursday when New York extended the series with an 85-75 Game Five win over the visiting Pacers as 29-year-old rookie Chris Copeland sank 3-of-4 from three-point range to tally 13 points and provide a jolt of offense.
The 6-foot-8 (2.03m) Copeland was signed by the Knicks off an impressive performance at the 2012 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas after stops in pro leagues in Belgium, Germany and Spain.
“I am extremely excited that I had some impact on the game,” said Copeland, who played his college basketball in Colorado. “I hope I can do it again next game.”
Center Tyson Chandler took notice of the spark he generated.
“Copeland just has a knack for scoring,” Chandler said. “Anytime you get him in the game he’s going to make something good happen offensively. He came up huge for us.”
Indiana, of course, knows the way New York would like to operate on offense.
“Anytime you have a scorer like Carmelo it frees up other things for other guys,” said Pacers top scorer Paul George, who has drawn the assignment of guarding Anthony.
“They looked to be aggressive and attack but again it is because of how well Carmelo scores the ball. He did a good job of drawing attention and the rest of the team did a good job of knocking down those shots,” he said about the Game Five result.
Copeland, still treated as a fresh-faced rookie despite approaching his 30th birthday and made to tote around a pink plastic Dora the Explorer tote bag as part of his hazing, said he was confident he could contribute.
”I can help us spread the floor and get guys away from the basket,“ he said. ”I think I can help Melo get opportunities on the block and get space for J.R.
“It is going to take a team effort for us to get over the hump and get out of this hole. It is going to take more than the first five,” added Copeland, who along with his bench-mates outscored the Indiana reserves 35-10 in Thursday’s victory.
Smith, who averaged 14.2 points in the regular season, showed signs of coming out of his funk, scoring 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting in Game Five.
Rumors had swirled about Smith’s state of mind on Thursday after recording artist Rihanna, pictured with him this week at a New York night club and once linked romantically with the hoops star in the gossip pages, used social media to say Smith has been hungover from late night partying during the playoffs.
“All I know is he was ready to play yesterday,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson told ESPN Radio on Friday.
“It would be a great opportunity for him to step up tomorrow and help us get it done.”
Anthony said he still had faith in Smith.
“It is encouraging to see J.R. playing basketball and putting everything aside at this point,” said Anthony. “It seems like he is finding his way to get off that island, what we call a shooting struggle. J.R. is a big part of our team’s success.”
Said Smith: “I still didn’t shoot my best. Hopefully the little bit of rhythm I did get carries over.”
Editing by Frank Pingue