OK, I think folks (myself included) have blogged the first six games of this series into the ground. And the same match-up assessments logically hold true.
So to cover some basic facts, and then move on, home-court advantage, for the Hawks, should give them an overwhelming opportunity to move on to round two. But the issue of Al Horford’s ability to play, and to play at his usual level, is as prominent as any one could address.
Rather than go the straight-forward route, I’d like to veer off slightly, and “talk about Josh”.
This kid has been a lightning rod of blog disagreement for years (to maintain my long-standing position, I’ve never been too big on taking a side on Smith, preferring, over the years, to believe that, ultimately, both he and Marvin essentially see themselves as 3’s, or small forwards, in this league, and that for the Hawks to realistically challenge for an NBA Championship, one of them will need to move on, for a complementary center; the skills of that complement depending wholly on which one of them would be traded), but never more so than in the last few days.
Smith has taken heat (no pun intended) from both Miami’s coaching staff, as well as members of the national media, for attempting a highlight-reel dunk during a blowout of the Heat. He also continues to receive criticism for his outside shooting, which has been a point of contention for years.
So, in defense of Josh Smith (without fixating on the pure numbers, which actually bring up a more compelling consideration; just how underwhelming the Hawks’ star player, Joe Johnson, has been during this series), let’s chomp on a little food for thought (especially as it relates to the Hawks’ chances in Game 7):
1) Nothing is quite as valuable as a rabid home crowd, during the playoffs, which is specifically the point of winning the home-court advantage.
And nobody on the Hawks even come close to blowing up the crowd like Josh Smith, with one of his gravity-defying dunks or blocked shots. NOT EVEN CLOSE!
I was in attendance at games 1 and 5, and his explosiveness is THE thing folks come for, that they respond to. In a city like Atlanta, where there’s a long-standing reputation for semi-indifferent fan support, he represents, on any given night, the difference between people jumping out of their seats, high-fiving strangers, and screaming at the top of their lungs, and folks looking for the beer man and leaving after 3 quarters.
2) Josh Smith’s outside shot: Is a work in progress, and may never be confused with Reggie Miller, Dell Curry or Steve Nash. But the half-court offense that Woody continues to run puts Josh in a position to take frequent, open shots, anywhere from 17-23 feet away from the basket.
Truth is that if these are the looks the Hawks’ coaching staff are going to continue to put him in a place to receive, then he has to either take them or attack the basket when he receives the look.
Duh, you say, as this issue has been analyzed into the freakin’ ground.
What’s your point, Ando?
My point is that during Game 5, while the game was clearly not in doubt from the first quarter on, the same home crowd that screamed in maniacal support of every athletically mind-boggling Josh Smith move, groaned a full second before every single outside shot he attempted.
Groaned their collective displeasure so loudly that there was no way Josh, or anyone else, could possibly miss it right before he released every single attempt.
I don’t care what sport you play, or follow, whether it’s hoops, baseball, golf or tennis (though those are four good examples), if someone screams at you (or 19,000 people) right before you take a shot, swing at a pitch, drive or putt a golf ball, or serve a tennis ball, it’s well-established that it might distract you.
So, why on earth would Atlanta fans, who can’t get enough of celebrating a Josh Smith dunk, turn on him, and the team, and groan, BEFORE he even attempts an outside shot? Don’t you want him to make it? It doesn’t really matter that his outside shot is a work in progress, the Hawks need him to MAKE his shots.
So regardless of whether you think he should be taking these shots (and isn’t that more of an indictment on the coaching staff, if you don’t think he should, given that they continue to put him in a position to take them?), come Game 7, you might want to put the opportunity to win in front of your subjective opinion on whether he should be shooting from outside.
leads to the reality of Game 7….
I hear Al Horford is going to play. But as a guy who was plagued by ankle problems throughout his so-called hoops’ career, I have to wonder just how much “Al” we can expect. From my experience, if he couldn’t go a couple of days ago, he can’t be much better tomorrow. Ligaments just don’t bounce back very quickly.
Now, if he does play, and the Heat fail to challenge his lateral ability, defensively, then it could very well minimize his limitations.
OK, before I get away completely from this Josh Smith issue, especially as it relates to the ridiculous false indignance of the Heat and their coaching staff, let me say one more thing:
If either Kobe or Lebron (or, to be brutally honest, Wade) tries that “this game is already over” dunk, like Josh did, nobody says a word. Not the Heat coaches. Not the media. Nobody.
Because ESPN pays for those kind of highlights.
And if a rookie coach like Spoelstra (sp, whatever) called out Kobe or Lebron, for such a crowd-pleasing attempt, both of those guys would take it out on his, and his teams’, ass!!
OK, to summarize:
Hawks, without a healthy Horford, are susceptible for Game 7.
To win, they need (yes, I avoided this issue) Joe Johnson to play like an all-star,
they need Josh Smith to bring both the highlights (which he does not need the fans’ help with), as well as a consistent, CONFIDENT, outside stroke (which, you, Hawks’ fans, can encourage, by not ‘bailing’ on him everytime he squares up).
The Hawks need the very best of Josh Smith tomorrow (remember how they faired in Game 7, against the Celtics, when he struggled).
It’s really unreasonable to try and have it both ways with Josh Smith. You can’t gush over his dunks and blocks, then whine (WHILE HE’S ABOUT TO SHOOT) when he attempts an outside look! Yeah, I know, and I’ve already noted, that his shooting is a work in progress (but do you really want to break his confidence right now, in GAME FREAKIN’ SEVEN?).
Have the kid’s back tomorrow, and he very well may thank you by leading the Hawks to the second round of the playoffs. His quotes have made it clear, over the years, that he pays attention to what people say and think. So give him your faith and compel him, and the Hawks, to another level!