Is J.R. Smith a “punk” for his takedown of Leandro Barbosa?

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J.R. Smith was ejected near the very end of the Knicks’ loss in Indiana on Tuesday, for doing what he did to Leandro Barbosa in the video clip above. The loss was a brutal one for New York, considering the team led by as many as 17 points late in the third quarter, and has a very slim lead over the Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The frustration level was understandable, but Smith’s actions on this play, a little less so. Equally puzzling was the fact that a writer for the New York Post took to Twitter following the game to express his displeasure with the play — and seemingly, with Smith as a person.

The tweet that followed seemed to indicate that in person, the takedown was much worse, because Smith was “baiting” Barbosa into the contact all the way down the court.

Barbosa is a high-energy player who can definitely annoy his opponent at times, and it’s especially true in this case, where he’s playing physical, full-court defense with the game having already been decided. I don’t know how much “baiting” was really going on here; Barbosa was just as much to blame for the contact as Smith … at least up until the point where Smith decided to throw him to the ground.

The play by Smith was clearly made out of frustration, and was definitely “unprofessional,” as his head coach Mike Woodson said about it afterward. But let’s be clear: this wasn’t Andrew Bynum laying out a player half his size in mid-air at the end of a playoff sweep. This came at the end of a sequence where two players were hand-fighting all the way down the court, and one player — Smith, obviously — had clearly had enough.

This was Smith’s take on the play, from Berman’s piece on the game.

“It was a tug-of-war,’’ said Smith, who came to the Knicks with a tough-guy rep. “The refs didn’t see it. They only saw the end of it. It happens. It’s just the frustration of the game. Bumping and the grinding, he was going at me, I was going at him. It was going on the whole game. Nobody really paid attention to it. I just got a little fed up with it.’’

The ejection was the right call, and if you’re the Knicks, you definitely don’t want to see one of your players going out like that at the end of a tough loss. But things like this happen. No one was injured, and Barbosa bounced up with glee after the play, knowing he was successful in getting into his opponent’s head.

Smith’s actions were indeed unprofessional. I would argue that the same could be said for a writer who covers the team resorting to very public, and very vague name-calling of one of the players he covers.

The word “punk” is a tricky one — I’m not going to get into all of the possibilities here, but let’s just say it’s more of a personal attack (or worse, the voicing of a personal perception) than is necessary when covering men who play sports. Say the play was dirty, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike, or anything else; this one was all of those things. But it’s the loud-mouthed fan’s place to throw out ambiguous terms aimed at hurting a player who he feels has wronged him or the game in some way — it shouldn’t be the media’s.

I will say this about the situation: Berman is not some faceless coward hiding behind an egg icon on Twitter, lobbing insults at someone whom he will never meet. J.R. Smith saw the comment, and retweeted it late Tuesday.

The Knicks play Thursday night in Orlando. The scene at shootaround when the team meets the media should be very interesting.

UPDATE: Marc Berman tweeted the following apology on Wednesday afternoon, which was great to see.