Finally, the Josh Smith we’ve been waiting for

 

Josh Smith and the Hawks were on one level, the Heat were on another. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

A telling snapshot from game one: Josh Smith and the Hawks were on one level, and Miami was on another. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com)

It was all there. Everything you’ve wanted. Everything you’ve envisioned on the other side of potential. Everything that can’t be illustrated in a few spliced highlights of two flying Wallenda dunks and a rebound.

Intensity. Enjoyment. Maturity.

Let me repeat that last one: maturity.

“It felt perfect,” Josh Smith said Monday. “Like a perfect day.”

It’s impossible to accurately project what the Hawks’ opening-game dismembering of the Miami Heat means for the rest of this playoff series or the post-season. But this much is certain: If Josh Smith continues to run and attack and defend like he did Sunday night, Miami has no chance in this series and Cleveland has something to worry about in the next one.

He scored 23 points — 17 in the first half, when the Heat was still in the game, at least theoretically. He added 10 rebounds, three steals and two assists. His weak-side defense drew praise from general manager Rick Sund. And he probably drove half the Miami roster to lithium.

“He was just running right by us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

And then he began mumbling, incoherently.

Smith has been called talented but selfish, talented but lazy, talented but immature. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that if he had gone to college for four years, this would be his rookie season.

Instead, he transitioned directly from the prom to the slam dunk contest.

“I’m a long way from [the end of] the growth process,” he said, and the important thing there is he’s going in the right direction.

Every team has shooters. Every team has playmakers and defenders and rebounders. The reason Sunday was so significant: Because every team doesn’t have a player like Josh Smith.

As Al Horford said: “It’s hard to contain us as a team when he’s playing at that level. We feed off of that.”

So this is what the other side of the rainbow looks like.

Smith is a native Atlantan. He’s also a five-year Hawk, and therefore has seniority on the roster. In that sense, he has suffered more and witnessed more carnage than anybody else.

He laughed when told that, and then acknowledged the obvious.

“This means a lot to me,” he said. “Being from here, raised here — you know, we really haven’t had a lot of teams we can brag about. Definitely not in my years growing up. This feels good. It’s more than about me because I’m a part of a team Atlanta can brag about. If you go from the bottom to top, you really cherish it more than if you come into the league and you’re winning 50 games compared to if you win 12 or 13.”

This is everything you’ve wanted, everything you’ve envisioned – and nothing like what seemed likely six weeks ago. Smith’s game had nose-dived, the team was fighting consistency problems and it all culminated in the 23-year-old being benched in the second half of a game at Charlotte by coach Mike Woodson.

It wasn’t the first time the two had clashed. But the two cleared the air afterward and Smith hasn’t been the same player since. Maybe the incident was a wake-up call.

When asked what the difference has been, Smith didn’t mention the benching, only that, “I wanted to elevate my game for the playoffs.”

Regardless: nice timing.

A great performance, without the “but.”

Jeff Schultz can be reached via email (jschultz@ajc.com), Facebook, Tweeter (SchultzAJC) or carrier pigeon (make a right off 400).

36 comments Add your comment

Wink from Lithonia

April 20th, 2009
6:01 pm

Best game as a Hawk for me…yes that was the other side of the rainbow!!!

Eric

April 20th, 2009
6:25 pm

Josh has been doing this for the last 3 years, he just plays in a bad sports city!!! It’s like he can’t have a bad night here or there, fans are more critical of him than any other player. Youngest player in N.B.A. history to 500 block shots, a rare talent that is still a little wild but good. Yes I get nervous about him taking too many three point shots, but when the smoke clears and you check the stat sheet Josh fills it like no one in the league. Joe is the best player for the Hawks, but Josh Smith is the MVP!!!

Big Ray

April 20th, 2009
6:33 pm

Nice article, Jeff.

And despite what some people think, Josh is and will continue to be the difference for this team. Joe is the star, and Horford is the rock. But Josh really drives things. Here’s to looking forward to more from him and this team.

Stat Man

April 20th, 2009
6:40 pm

I first started having hope for Josh in the 4th from the last game of the year, a 122-118 win at Indiana.

In a 1 point game with just under a minute left, he had a 3 on 2, passed up an open 17 foot brick and passed to a wide open Bibby, who nailed the 3 pointer. First sign he had shown all year that he didn’t have to fire up the ball every time he was open inside of 30 feet.

Hope springs eternal!

KevinA

April 20th, 2009
6:50 pm

What was more impressive than the “Josh experience” was the team play of the Hawks. As the team has matured the front court is finally getting more touches and they have responded. The Joe iso and Bibby off a screen is not the dominate play anymore. Last nights unselfish play and active ball movement was at it’s best. This is the Hawks at it’s best. If we can keep this style of play even when games are tight, look for the Hawks to continue to impress.

RHB

April 20th, 2009
7:48 pm

Eric, Atlanta may not be a great sports city but it’s not bad at least not how you portray it. Contrarily, Atlantans tend to not be critical enough regarding our players. Josh has earned every last bit of criticism the last couple of years particularly regarding his on-again-off-again defense and shot selection. He isn’t close to the MVP of this team.

He had a great game last night and I hope it continues into future indefinitely but I’m not holding my breath.

eddiedawg

April 20th, 2009
8:03 pm

Ah yes, Eric-when in doubt, blame the Atlanta fans. If Josh Smith played for NY or Boston, he would have wilted and been run out of town long before now. The fans here have NOTHING to do with Josh making bad decisions like jacking stupid threes. Last night was fantastic, but it’s one game. The game will come when Josh is uninvolved and he will revert back to his pouting self. The question is can we win when that happens? I hope it doesn’t, but Josh’s history tells me it will.
MVP of the team is Al Horford btw-consistent and mature EVERY night.
GO HAWKS!

crackbaby

April 20th, 2009
8:10 pm

Great Team Win and Josh was AMAZING! Marvin, Joe and Bibby got us going in the first Qtr. and Josh deflated the Heat with his D and Dunks from there. That reverse alley oop was insane – really a bad pass from Bibby that Josh “Superman’d” home.
Hawks need to sweep this team and bow up for the Cavs. The Heat aren’t very good but they will fight like wild animals the next 2 games.

Go Hawks!

crackbaby

April 20th, 2009
8:15 pm

By the way, ‘Nique and Bob Rathman (sp?) on Sportsouth totally outclassed the TNTannouncing team of Dick Stockton and Mike Fratello. Fratello sounded like he was asleep for the 1st half despite the Hawks remarkable 20 pt. lead. Stockton didn’t even know how to pronounce Pachulia. LOSERS!

Now if we could please just get higher quality HD picture from SS!

Darrin "The Vent King"

April 20th, 2009
9:11 pm

I wonder if those clowns on 680 “the Ham” want to talk all day about trading Josh Smith NOW? I remember about a month ago after the dust up with Coach Woodson, those lugnuts led a crusade just condemning and slamming Josh Smith- a player who has never been in trouble with the law, never beat his girlfriend, sold or did drugs like he was just the worse person in the world. They conducted a poll and you should have heard how many self-righteous mindless sheep claimed they agreed with those losers. Wonder how many of them were at the game cheering J Smoove on Sunday night? Yes, Smoove may have his moments, but he is still a very young guy. I’ve not seen one scandal with his name attached to it, so an argument with a coach is no big deal with the mess you see going on with a lot of athletes today. People tend to forget he came into the league right out of high school. I believe the older this guy gets, the better he will be, its just all these “perfect” citizens in Georgia want everyone to be the best person in the world from day one to boot. Guys with his type talent do not come around often and it will be more than worth the wait to give a guy his age a chance to grow up cause once he does- LOOK OUT! (just stop it with those 3 pointers man! lol)

GO HAWKS!!!

truth-serum

April 20th, 2009
9:18 pm

tale of woe

April 20th, 2009
4:51 pm

I appreciate the honor of you singling me out. I’m flattered. I don’t know you, or care to. Thanks have a nice day.

Schultz, why are you trying to make an issue of judgment about Woodson’s Job? The city is behind Woodson and his crews just like the bubbas are behind you and your crew.
Sund came out in an article published by the AJC last week and praise and congratulated Woodson. Charles Barkley and TNT’s Crew praised the work of Woodson. It clear to see that he has done an outstanding job and will be back next year no matter what your mouth says.
Woodson is a winner and we are lucky to have him!!!
Just like the many guys on here that see you for who and what you are, guys that matter like Sund and Barkley see Woodson for who and what he is.

You are narrow, divisive and unfair. You may not like it but that’s my impression of you and no matter how many bubbas you send after me I’ve read enough of your writings to know what you are about.

Mike Woodson isn’t talking to you because he too, can see through you. Of all those coaches you named that are speaking to you how many are Black? How can you suddenly be ignorant of why Woody isn’t speaking to you? When you read the other sports writers post they have hundreds of different responses because they are fair journalist. You are a race baiter. Should you receive mercy when you showed none? Let’s ask Michael Vick did you show him any mercy…

Woodson will be back next year regardless of what the Hawks do in the playoffs. Win lose or draw in any round and the Hawks will still be playing at or equal to their talent level. Woodson does a Great Job.

Jeff Schultz

April 20th, 2009
9:21 pm

Thanks all for the early comments, as I respond during 24 while the world is coming to an end AGAIN!!!

Big Ray: “Joe is the star, and Horford is the rock. But Josh really drives things.” You could be a writer.

KevinA: Hawks team defense was great. Bibby deserves credit for running the show.

Darrin: The point about Josh not getting involved in drugs or a scandal is a strong one and a credit to both him and his upbringing. He has set himself up for criticism in the past with some immature actions but the thing nobody has ever known is when (or if) he would grow up.

Back later.

Paco

April 20th, 2009
10:17 pm

Time to extend Josh, Al, and coach Woodson’s contracts. And resign Bibby. I love the way the team focuses on D and works the ball inside, but I’d love to see this team with a reliable 3-point/outside shooting threat. A guy we could depend on when teams pack it in defensively and dare us to shoot from outside.

kentrell

April 20th, 2009
10:38 pm

did yall see bibby with the block shot(early in the game). him and joe played hellafide defense on wade, joe said at the press conf. they are a FAST PACE RUNNING TEAM, UPTEMPO OFFENSE. josh couldve had 25 if flip didnt pull the ball back on the fast break. josh played within himself and didnt think to much. they shared the ball, no joe iso on every poss. marvin got the game started for us, dont forget about his 7 straight pts.

Najeh Davenpoop

April 20th, 2009
10:41 pm

Big Ray already is a writer… he is the resident Hawks fan-blogocrat on AJC.com.

Josh

April 20th, 2009
11:01 pm

Paco…umm.. ever heard of Mike Bibby? or Marvin Williams? or Joe Johnson? or Maurice Evans? or Flip Murray? Wow, of all of our needs you pick 3-Point shooting to blab about.

Reggie

April 20th, 2009
11:22 pm

I pretty much agree with everything. The thing thats most impressive to me is Josh Smith has stepped up his game since that fued he had with Mike Woodson. That fued might have been the turning point for Josh Smith & the Hawks.

CaliHawks

April 21st, 2009
12:43 am

Great game !! Very proud of the Hawks.. I remember years of awful play & bad records. It was dope to see them destroy the Heat like they did .. i never saw that comin at least not in game 1 and not that bad!! What was most impressive 2 me about the game other than that reverse alley oop slam by j smoove is tha way they shut down the heat in 4th quarter holdin them to only 7 points. sumtimes these young hawks lose focus and let teams back in the game, this time not last nite and 4sho not in these PLAYOFFS!! GO HAWKS!!!!!!

Snowman

April 21st, 2009
1:34 am

Jeff,

D-Wade was confused, surprised and quite frankly ineffective (sounds allot the guy in your mirror when writing about coach Woodson, huh?). Coach Woodson had an incredible game plan and strategy for the game last night and the guys executed the plan flawlessly. How in the world did the Heat coach get 3 times more COY votes than Woodson is beyond me?…I think Woody could care less. I think he just wants his guy to keep getting better and make a run at this eastern conference title for the city of Atlanta.

Josh played very well (despite the occasional 3 point shot air ball and turnover or two). Coach knows his potential to play that well all the time and want is more consistently and the running battle for 5 years is for the coaching group to get that to happen night in and night out. Know one has a larger variance from night to night than Josh. he can look like a first team All-Pro some nights and not so much the next night.

That place was rockin last night and that should show you what the people think about coach Woodson and the Hawks. Oh, one last thing, maybe the benching was a wake up call?…How do you grade the way Woodson handle the situation now and the results of the action taken by coach?…I would be very curious because when it happened you sided with the 23 year old and NOT the authority figure?…Jeff you just got stop, seriously…allow us to enjoy this playoff run…Rip the other coach and their players and please leave ours alone.

Great job coach Woodson and again you and the guys represented Hawk Nation with “style, class and grace”…and it was really fun to watch (smile)…what a night!!!…

Snowman

April 21st, 2009
1:45 am

Oh, and one last thing Jeff…I see where Woody finished in the top 4th of the NBA coaches for the COY honor and you would like to see him fired…pathetic!!!…I wonder are you in the top 4th or higher of the writers at the Journal or Sportswriters nationally?…if not should you be fired?…Just asking?…

Shout-out to Truth-Serum for keeping it real and always defending coach against your craziness. keep up the good work Truth and I know you are not by yourself amongst all the folks that Post in support of coach Woodson and the fairness you bring to your writing…Keep Up The Good Work Truth-Serum!!!(smile)…

N. Joy Pharteen

April 21st, 2009
6:23 am

What does smoove mean? Is that a word?

ADV2DC Hawk

April 21st, 2009
6:44 am

To N. Joy Pharteen,

Let me bring you “up to speed”. Smoove is about ten degrees more smooth that smooth ever was or ever will be. It is the coolest state of cool. Additionally, it is a relaxed intensity. If you don’t understand . . . just keep watching “J Smoove” operate . . . you will soon understand.

BTW….it is not a word…just like “athleticism” is not a real word.

Ted Striker

April 21st, 2009
7:57 am

“Smoove is 10 degrees more smooth than smooth will ever be.”

I like it. In layman’s terms, it’s like the vast improvement of Elisha Cuthbert from what she was in early ‘24′ to what she is in Season 7.” Once she was luscious, now she’s lusc-licious.

Ryno

April 21st, 2009
8:59 am

What was most impressive about the TEAM victory on Sunday was Joe Johnson only had 15 points. On a normal night he scores 25 and the Hawks win the game by 40.

We need another huge win on Wednesday. Let’s Go Hawks!

yetta

April 21st, 2009
9:55 am

Talking about the blowup between Woodson and Josh; I think maybe Josh gave the coach a few pointers. I noticed a change in Woodson’s approach after the blowout also. i think Josh said some of the things the other team members wanted to say and didn’t have the guts to say. I think the coach realized there are other players other than Joe & Bibby. The back and forth to each other too often and time lose on the clock. Give the ball to Josh at the last second; fall guy!!!!

WR

April 21st, 2009
11:18 am

Good work Jeff and I too agree. Josh is an enigma, he’s Karl Malone, Nique, a sprinkle of Dirk, with some Horace Grant on the side. This guys upside is off the charts, everyone talks about the Hawks all star Joe Johnson, but if Josh would just continue along the path that he has decided to take over the past month or so the Hawks will be a force to be reckoned with for some time even minus a Joe Johnson. Lebron’s skill set is said to be unmatched but if you look at it not only does he possess unworldly skills but he is coachable, seeks to improve, works on the intangibles and development that continues to make him a great player. I’m not putting Josh on his level but I do believe that if Josh starts to take the same approach he could go from a good to great player to an elite player. He’s only 23, straight out of highschool with millions thrown in his face, while at times he makes us want to bang him upside the head with a light blug hoping it would activate the one in his head, at other times he settles down enough to understand no one in the league can truly guard him when he is focused. I like you believe that if he continues to play like he did in game one, the Cavs better look out.

hawksfan

April 21st, 2009
11:52 am

GOO Hawks! I would love it after we beat the Heat if we take down the Cavaliers or the Celtics the Celtics aren’t playing great ball right now just barely won last night against the Bulls

dap01

April 21st, 2009
12:33 pm

Anyone: What center can we get during the off season that can put this team over the top? Hopefully Bibby will come back at a much reduced price and be the role player that we need him to be, AC can be allowed to develop and Marvin, Josh and Al can be the nucleus of our team.

Who could be that center and how can we get him? What would it take to trade for the draft position to get Thibbett?

Ted Striker

April 21st, 2009
12:53 pm

I remember thinking that Malone and Theus were going to put the Hawks over the top….

Ryno

April 21st, 2009
1:10 pm

Let’s try to move up in the draft and get DeJuan Blair!

JSS

April 21st, 2009
2:07 pm

Dejuan is more of the same, and I love his game…

Oh I haven,t forgotten about you (Jeff Schultz); I’m frying larger fish right now…

Remember… Tick-Tock…

Jeff Schultz

April 21st, 2009
2:33 pm

Paco: Josh just signed a 5 year/$58 million deal last summer. So he doesn’t have an extension coming.

Najeh: Blogocrat? Is that a new political party?

Reggie: You might be right, but neither is talking about the blowup any more, but there’s no question Josh’s game picked up after that.

Snowman: Don’t know how “confused” D-Wade — he’s probably seen every defense by this stage of his career — but he certainly was ineffective, and the Hawks played great D. On the COY award, I’m not sure who votes for that. But those things usually go to expectation level. The Heat went from 15 wins to 43 wins, so therein lies the support for Spoelstra.

N-Joy: I don’t speak Smoove.

Yetta: Hadn’t thought of that. Suppose it’s possible. All I know is both sides had a chance to vent and that can be a good thing.

WR: Thanks.

Ryno: Might not have to move up. Here’s one mock that his him falling to the Hawks at 19.
http://www.nbadraft.net/2009mock_draft

JSS: You should try grilling. It’s better for your health.

k1ngmob

April 21st, 2009
2:51 pm

Bring those brooms, hawks fans!!! Cause D-Wade is going to D-feather those birds ONE DUNK AT A TIME!!!! PLUCK PLUCK PLUCK! It will be messy, is all what i’m saying.

truth-serum

April 22nd, 2009
7:51 am

Snowman

April 21st, 2009
1:45 am

Great post Snowman! I enjoy reading you. Good insight. Schultz is in the top 4 contestants for the hater of the year award!!!

Schultz, stop the madness. Hating not only hurts others but the man you see In the mirror.

[...] won by Mike Woodson. A frequent poster who goes by “Snowman” posted a comment on my Josh Smith column the other day, saying: “How in the world did the Heat coach get 3 times more COY votes than Woodson is [...]

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June 22nd, 2009
8:21 am

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