Mike Woodson declined to answer questions about Smith all day, right up until game time. No one knew what Woodson had in store for the veteran shooting guard.
After being fined $50,000 by the league for multiple instances of unsportsmanlike conduct, Woodson took the primetime game against the Miami Heat to make a statement. Without telling a soul (or at least a member of the media), he benched Smith.
Everyone inside Madison Square Garden could feel it as Iman Shumpert played almost the entire first quarter. Instead of the usual spots when Smith would normally check in, he sat on the bench next to the injured Metta World Peace. It became obvious that Smith wouldn't play when, with 1:10 to go in the first, Tim Hardaway Jr., replaced Shumpert.
Without Smith in the lineup, the other shooting guards shined. Shumpert had a quiet first half before going off with four clutch three pointers in the second. Hardaway Jr. also had a big night, posterizing Ray Allen on a put back slam and hitting the teams only three of the first half. He also played solid defense down the stretch. Shumpert ended the game with 12 points and 9 rebounds.
The ball movement was crystal clear without Smith in the lineup. Relegated to the bench, the Knicks racked up 25 assists. Missing was the isolation basketball that Smith loves and in its place was passing, screens and open shots created by Smith's benching.
Best of all was the unexpected nature of the benching. Smith said after the game that he took the court for warmups before the game, completely unaware of his fate for the game.
"I think that’s the most misleading part of it,” Smith said. “I could see if I was told, but there was no conversation about it.” In addition to this, he stated after the game that he was unsure about his future as a member of the New York Knicks.
Truth is, I'd expect Smith to be back out there tomorrow against the 76ers but hopefully his benching sent a message. You can't just do whatever you want and get away with it. I hope that Woodson keeps a close eye on Smith over the rest of the season and if he should trip up again, I'd expect Woodson to lower the hammer again.