Smith Fuels Hawks As They Pull Even With Pacers



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ATLANTA – The battles rages on between “Good Josh [Smith]” and “Bad Josh.”

The duel between the enigmatic and energetic sides of the Atlanta Hawks’ mercurial star was on full display in what could easily serve as a case study of his game, the Hawks’ season-saving 102-91 Game 4 win over the Indiana Pacers that evened their first round playoff series at two games each Monday night at Philips Arena.

Hawks fans are used to this reality show, cheering Smith wildly when he makes a spectacular play and then jeering him seconds later when he parks at the 3-point line for a 3-pointer no one else in the building wants him to take. It’s a surreal atmosphere, one you have to witness for yourself to comprehend just how peculiar it can be.

It’s gone on like this the better part of the last nine years, Hawks fans reaching for their blood pressure medicine one second and then leaping out of their seats the next. It’s a love-hate relationship with one of their own that Oklahoma City Thunder fans have developed with All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, only Westbrook isn’t hearing it from a crowd of fans in his hometown of Los Angeles.

Smith doesn’t flinch, no matter how loud the crowd gets. And they rode the emotional roller coaster with him on this night, play after crazy play from start to finish as Smith scored a career playoff-high 29 points with 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals. It was his first 25-point, 10-rebound playoff game and came in his 50th postseason appearance, a nice robust number for a player who continues to confound not only the fans but some of his teammates as well.

“This was definitely one of those ‘ooh, aah’ moments with Josh,” Al Horford said. “He gives you those ‘oohs’ and then those ‘aahs.’ It’s kind of a ‘Yes’ and then ‘No’ thing going on. That’s the way it is. I think [the fans] obviously want Josh to be successful. Everybody loves him here. Sometimes we do question his shot selection. But tonight he hit some big shots down the stretch, made some huge plays for other guys down the stretch and made plays to help us win this game. I know it might drive some people a little crazy. But it works for us and that’s just the way it is.”

The fans stayed on for the good and bad Monday night, pulling their hair out in the third quarter as he missed all six of his shots from the floor, including all three of his 3-point attempts,  and just half of his 12 free throws as the Hawks’ 18-point lead shrunk to just four late in the quarter.

That same crowd rose to their feet in the final tense moments of the game. Smith scored seven of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, shot 3-for-4 from the floor, dished out three assists, grabbed two crucial rebounds and blocked a shot. His 3-pointer with 3:08 to play pushed the Hawks’ lead to 89-81. His rebound of a Horford miss with the Hawks’ clinging to an 89-83 lead was followed by a no-look pass to Kyle Korver on the wing for the 3-point dagger that pushed the lead to nine with 2:33 to play and muted any chance the Pacers had of coming back.

“That was the biggest play of the game right there,” Horford said. “He was aware enough to find Kyle and Kyle had a clean look and knocked it down. That’s what it’s all about right there.”

Korver was huge off the bench, scoring 19 points and draining five of his eight shots from beyond the 3-point line. Anthony Tolliver nailed all three of his 3-pointers, too, helping Smith blow the game open during a 35-19 run while Horford was in foul trouble and on the bench for all but three minutes of the quarter.

“Tolliver and Korver really lit us up,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We have to do a better job closing out on those guys so they don’t get going early.”

The Hawks shooters got going because Smith was cooking, inside and out (he scored 10 points in the quarter) and controlling the action (he also had five rebounds). Toss in his defensive work on Pacers All-Star Paul George in Games 3 and 4, a series-changing adjustment from Hawks coach Larry Drew, and it’s clear that Smith is one of the main reasons Hawks fans will get a chance to see Game 6 here Friday night.

“I thought Josh Smith played a phenomenal game,” Drew said. “It was a challenge trying to defend Paul George and he took the challenge.”

Smith has never shied away from those challenges, same as he’s never wavered in his confidence in his own abilities to do the things people assume he can’t or better yet shouldn’t, in certain situations. It’s the beauty and the curse of his game. It’s also a quality you have to see up close to appreciate, according to Hawks guard Devin Harris, who couldn’t help but smile when asked about his first year watching Smith deal with the love-hate dynamic from the hometown fans.

“I think that’s just Atlanta. And him being here, being from here, that just a unique relationship they have with one another,” Harris said. “I thought he was dialed in from (minute) one tonight. He just piggybacked from what he did in Game 3 and was a force for us. When he plays like that, we’re a very good team.”

A team that gave the Pacers fits yet again, beating them for the 13th straight time at Philips Arena. A team capable of perhaps winning this series, though the Hawks will have to win a game in Indianapolis to do so. Smith is confident, even if others are not, as he should be. For all the hate that comes his way, Smith will finish his ninth season in elite company. He passed Kevin Willis for fourth place on the Hawks’ all-time postseason games played list. He’s also one of just four players in NBA history to have 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 1,400 blocks at 27, joining Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon.

“Energy and effort,” Smith said of the things the Hawks need to take with them for Game 5 Wednesday night. “If we play with those things and play together … that’s what it will take for us to compete up there in arena.”

There will only be jeers up there for Josh … good or bad.

15 Comments

  1. Dont Be Silly says:

    Hawks have a very real chance of beating the Pacers, but if they do the Knicks would smash them. Carmelo will have a field day with J Smooth, Horford won’t be doing too much against Chandler, and well JR Smith can light them up at any given time for 20+ points also. Indiana vs New York might get to 7 games, but I’m still leaning on the Knicks to make it out of that bout! It’s funny how the Pacers think they’re a threat to the Heat, but the Heat ain’t got time for that! The Knicks are the only team in the East that’ll stand a chance against the Heat, but they’d have to play a perfect offensive game in a shootout with Miami, which they won’t win in a best of 7 (much as it kills me to say). I hope the Spurs are healthy enough to take them down this year because with or without Westbrook, OKC is terrified of Miami!

  2. Kimmy says:

    LETS GO HAWKS!!!!

  3. BJ says:

    Hawks will win this series in 7 and shock everyone…lotta guys playing for contracts and their future in the nba. As for the Knicks, I’d say hawks go down in 6 but put in a great effort.

  4. ME says:

    sometimes i think if people really believe what they say in this comments

  5. Thunda says:

    @pm how stupid you sound beat ny you stupid probably pacers yea sorry not us Neva sorry pm and to let you no I think d12 is staying a laker so sorry an as for y’all thinking heat is gonna win well guess wat they have a road block in ny sorry

  6. rondo says:

    You are wrong everywhere. Pacers will win. Knicks and pacers might go to seven games and simply Miami will destroy every opponent they face. I think it is time for you to go to sleep PM.

  7. PM says:

    Hawks are gonna beat the Pacers in six, then they will upset the knicks because josh smith will shut down melo, and then hawks will lose in five to the miami heat. But that impressive showing will make D12 and CP3 come to ATL to have a Big 4 of Josh Smith, D12, CP3, and Al Horford

    • george says:

      hahahaha, that is the most surreal post i have seen for months! Good to see the hawks fans raving tho.
      Go and sell out your arena for gm6

    • ATLienC4 says:

      Well said PM…. Good things and Good players are coming to atlanta…. and it all starts with D12 and those 2 first and second round picks…. Its all on Ferry….. Please learn from Rick Sund

    • ac says:

      Dude, let me know what drugs you’re taking so I can get in on the fun. Outside of the Hawks POSSIBLY beating the Pacers (emphasis on possibly, but probably not), they would have NO chance against the Knicks. We’ve beaten them all four times this year and none of the games were even close.

      Also, I like your optimism but there’s NO way Howard and CP3 are playing in Atlanta next year.

      • Colin says:

        Ha they only played knicks 3 times and they both sat starters in final game. Hardly lost in NY in the first game and kept it close to the end in game 2 things could change now that Josh Smith is being Josh Smith

  8. wdrums0 says:

    Seriously, Korver should do a Tom Cruise impersonation. I watched that video at the top of the screen. He would be a dead ringer.
    Except, of course, he’s like 2 feet taller ;)

  9. This is gonna be a tough series…and while all these teams in the east are crushing each other the heat will easily walk through their banged up bodies since they always take the easy way out

    • Chris says:

      How is the Heat taking the easy way out? You’re unbelievably stupid

    • Peter says:

      Put Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard on the same team – f they don’t make the finals within two seasons, then come back and me that “how are they taking the easy way out?” question again!

      That’s not even considering the fact that every veteran free agent signs for the vet minimum just to ride the ‘big three’ coattails, and that they get the favour of the officials in every single game they play.

      Don’t get me wrong they obviously still have to play to win, but the odds are hardly stacked against them…