When Josh Smith is on, the Hawks can’t be stopped

Josh Smith skies for two of his 21 points Tuesday night, and all John Salmons can do is watch. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Josh Smith skies for two of his 21 points in Tuesday night's win, and all John Salmons can do is watch. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Joe Johnson is the Hawks’ four-time All-Star, their highest-paid player and the one guy on the roster who spoke openly the other day about feeling he needed to prove himself as one of the game’s elite players by carrying his team in crucial moments in these playoffs, if necessary.

All of that is accurate. But it doesn’t diminish the impact Josh Smith can have on a team. We saw again why Tuesday night.

He is forever the Hawks’ X-factor because so few can do what he does, which, by the way, is everything. The only comparable might be a guy named LeBron.

As Al Horford said when asked about key performers for the Hawks in this postseason, “Joe is one of those players who lives for the big moment — he’s our go-to guy. But I think Josh is the biggest key for us. He gets everybody going. He makes things happen. When he’s rebounding the ball, scoring the ball, he’s the guy who makes us go.”

During the day, it was announced that Smith had finished second in voting as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, behind only Dwight Howard, his close friend going back to pre-school. (Imagine the Nerf hoop battles at that school.)

In the evening, he showed us the rest of his game. He made his first six shots. He passed. He rebounded. He blocked shots. He dove on the floor for loose balls.

The Hawks defeated the Bucks 96-86 at Philips Arena. For the first time since 1970, they have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series. And if Smith keeps playing like this, this thing will be over after Game 4 in Milwaukee on Monday. He just missed a triple-double: 21 points (nine of 11 shooting), 14 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks.

On a night of two other great performances — Horford with 20 points and 10 rebounds; Johnson with 27 points — Smith stood out. It’s very simple: When he plays like this, the Hawks can beat anybody. Bucks. Magic. Cavaliers. Lakers.

“If you think back to six years ago, Josh Smith has come a long way,” coach Mike Woodson said. “He has worked over the years, and he has developed into a player — a player who I thought should’ve made the All-Star team this year. There’s nothing he can’t do on the floor.”

Smith was beaming afterward. He cracked a joke when asked about the near triple-double, saying, “Marvin [Williams] let me down,” by missing a shot that would’ve given Smith his 10th assist.

In the big picture, he knew it wasn’t that big of a deal.

“It was my night, and I just thank my teammates for going to me like they were,” he said. “I just felt great all night.

“I really just want to stay active. On the defensive end, I want to be the tone-setter. Al was has been terrific helping me out with that, too, clogging up the paint. Offensively, I just took my time in the post and made some good post moves, and I was able to finish.”

We saw early just how good the Hawks can be when everything is clicking. Horford was an early offensive force inside. Mike Bibby set up Smith and Horford for alley-oop plays. Smith and Johnson blocked shots on consecutive Milwaukee possessions, leading to baskets at the other end and an early 10-point lead at 22-12.

Just as in Game 1 against the Bucks, when the Hawks became “stagnant” (Jamal Crawford’s word) in the third quarter, they began standing around on offense again. If there is one thing we’ve learned about Milwaukee, it’s that the team doesn’t need an invitation to come back. The Bucks went on a 12-2 run to go up 32-30.

But for most of the night, they were playing catch-up — to the Hawks in general and Smith in particular.

In one five-minute stretch of the third quarter, Smith hit a jump shot, set up Williams for a driving layup, dropped in a little baby hook, slammed home a rebound of a Williams miss and drove the baseline for a layup. That gave the Hawks a 16-point lead at 69-53.

That pretty much was it. Milwaukee plays hard. But if the Hawks play like this, the Bucks can’t compete. If Smith plays like this, they’re not alone.

Smith celebrates after the Hawks took a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series for the first time since 1970. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Josh Smith and the Hawks celebrated after they went up 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series for the first time since the 1969-70 postseason. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

EARLIER TODAY

We’re live from Hawks-Bucks (and 2-0 would be huge)

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Countdown’s trouble spots: Milledgeville and Remerton?

You’re on the clock with the Falcons (and why not Thomas)?

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

45 comments Add your comment

Steve Carter

April 20th, 2010
10:23 pm

hey let’s just J was Smoove tonight :D

Steve Carter

April 20th, 2010
10:25 pm

I never thought I would say this, but this could be the year

Steve Carter

April 20th, 2010
10:28 pm

Enter your comments here

Resign or Resign?

April 20th, 2010
10:34 pm

If Josh & Marvin would play to their potential EVERY night, the Hawks would take it ALL!

JSS

April 20th, 2010
10:39 pm

OK, two excellent home wins, but you rarely hear me say this, Jamal Crawford you need to stand up! The road game is a different monster, and bench scoring (and defensive stops) are premiums. The Hawks will need his offense to offset the energy that the Bucks will get. JTO is too young to bring it, Marvin is steady, but he is an addition to game flow… We need the 6th Man of the Year!

Reid Adair

April 20th, 2010
10:47 pm

You’re exactly right, Jeff. For all of the hype (deserved or not) around Joe Johnson, the Hawks go as Josh Smith goes. Here’s hoping he keeps rolling like tonight.

Jamaaliver

April 20th, 2010
10:47 pm

Somewhere Billy Knight is feeling a sense of vindication…..and that makes me sad.

ignition

April 20th, 2010
11:23 pm

Just please stay consistent and we can get a SWEEP…
Keep it moving & Lets Go Hawks !!!!!!!!

PlusSizeModel

April 20th, 2010
11:25 pm

Josh is the key? Hello second round exit. He has arguably the lowest basketball acumen in the history of the hardwoods.

RomeDawg

April 20th, 2010
11:26 pm

Do you think Jay Bilas regrets talking trash about Josh on draft night now? Keep it rolling Hawks!

JSS

April 20th, 2010
11:32 pm

Ignition…
Co-sign that…

Plus Size…
You must have missed Chris Washburn, JR Rider, and Priest Lauderdale? Our diamond in the rough has become a DeBeer’s Hope diamond!

David Smith

April 20th, 2010
11:45 pm

Smoove has been playing like a man possessed after his All Star snub and, is maturing right before our eyes with his inspired play. Hopefully we can complete the sweep in Milwaukee on Saturday so we can rest up for The “Tragic”. GO HAWKS!!!

Jon

April 20th, 2010
11:53 pm

PlusSize, you must be new to basketball. Josh might be the best passer of the ball at his position in the entire league, he tracks back on defense and lures the opponents to sleep to get big blocks and he has the most active hands on defense forcing steals yet you want to say he’s stupid? The kid has matured leaps and bounds and is a leader and role model (see what he did for Rajaan Bennett’s family) on and off the court.

sansho1

April 21st, 2010
12:31 am

Lots of ups and downs as he’s matured, but Josh is becoming a consummate team player. Everything tonight, just as in most of the season, was in the flow of the game. Every facet, he’s there, and if you watch enough basketball you know how truly rare that is. I love me some ‘Nique, but J Smoove will end up the best ballplayer the ATL Hawks have ever had, count it.

Marcus

April 21st, 2010
5:58 am

The true test will be the road games this week. We have been Jekyll and Hyde on the road all year … and if we mix in the playoff atmosphere and the desperation of a undermanned team down 0-2 .. we will see what kind of maturity our team has in its performance in Milwaukee.

No Woody for Me

April 21st, 2010
7:33 am

I am officially retiring the nickname J-Brick. Josh is playing out of his mind.

Barnacle Bill Bavasi

April 21st, 2010
7:45 am

Josh Smith is quickly becoming my favorite all-time Hawk, and I’ve been following then since John Drew/Dan Roundfield days. But, I’ll never call him Smoove.

Smoove

April 21st, 2010
8:20 am

what’s wrong with Smoove? BBB.

Mike Jay

April 21st, 2010
8:23 am

PlusSize,

That is the most absurd comment I have read about Josh Smith. His basketball IQ is through the roof. He sees the floor as good as a point guard and anticipates on the defensive end like few can.

tim

April 21st, 2010
8:25 am

When J Smith stops throwing up air balls and can actually use his right hand for something……he’ll get my vote. Until then…..Joe Johnson is da man.

LoveBones

April 21st, 2010
8:26 am

Wow! Been to every playoff home game past two seasons. Looked at box score from all games last night after returning home. The kid has become a man AND the face of the Hawks.

LoveBones

April 21st, 2010
8:29 am

After season, let’s say goodbye to Joe Johnson. He gambled and turned down a offer of $15 million/season extension. Dwayne Wade is available and already owns a house in town.

Clay

April 21st, 2010
8:33 am

He’s my favorite too, Bill. He plays with a lot of heart.

[...] Josh Smith cielos para dos de sus 21 puntos en la noche del martes en la victoria, y John Salmons todos los que pueden hacer es mirar. (Curtis Compton / AJC), Joe Johnson es cuatro veces de los Hawks de las Estrellas, sus salarios jugador mejor y el único tipo en la lista que habló abiertamente el otro día sobre la sensación que necesitaba probarse a sí mismo como uno de los juegos de la élite jugadores, llevando a su equipo en los momentos cruciales en estos playoffs, si es necesario. Todo eso es exacto. Sin embargo, no disminuye el impacto Josh Smith puede tener en el equipo. Nos volvimos a ver por qué la noche del martes. Él es para siempre Hawks X el factor porque muy pocos pueden hacer lo que hace que, por cierto, lo es todo. El único comparable podría ser un tipo llamado LeBron. Como Al Horford dijo cuando le preguntaron sobre los artistas clave para los Hawks en esta postemporada, "Joe es uno de esos jugadores que vive para el gran momento – es nuestro lanzamiento al chico. Pero creo que Josh es la clave más importante para nosotros. Él se pone en marcha todo el mundo. Él hace las cosas sucedan. Cuando está rebotando la pelota, marcando … URL del artículo original http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/2010/04/20/when-josh-smith-is-on-the-hawks-cant-be-stopped/?c... [...]

Barnacle Bill Bavasi

April 21st, 2010
9:02 am

What does it mean? If it’s a bastardization of smooth, fine, I’ll call him Smooth. But Smoove is simply stupid.

LouFan

April 21st, 2010
9:06 am

All Josh Smith has to do is control that emotion and channel it to making it happen. This would always be the result.

Barnacle Bill Bavasi

April 21st, 2010
9:12 am

Please unhang my response to Smoove. There’s nothing bad in it.

EW

April 21st, 2010
10:28 am

Man, a braves comeback win with 2 outs in the ninth, Hawks up 2-0 in dominating fashion…doesn’t get much better today..

Let him Joe

April 21st, 2010
11:25 am

Let Joe go and let’s get Wade. Wade is a real Allstar that takes our team to another level. If Joe thinks he is too good to re-sign with the Hawks then when the season is over let’s persuade Wade to sign with this contender. Know one will match up with our athleticism hustle and heart. I know the fans will enjoy our more up tempo play with Wade instead of Joe putting us to sleep with all that dribbling and his quiet game.

Chi Town B

April 21st, 2010
11:37 am

SMOOVE is the MAN!!!!! He does so much for our team, Joe scores & is our leader but when I go to the game Satuday in Milwaukee (Hawks fan stuck in Chicago) I’ll be wearing my Smoove jersey and Sport the JJ on monday PLUS I’ll bring my Broom cause were going to SWEEP THEM! We don’t fear the deer! RED HOT HAWKS!!!! Been to over 20 hawks games and this will be my 1st playoff game!

Mr. Phil

April 21st, 2010
11:57 am

LEt him Joe: I am not the worlds biggest JJ fan (Josh is my guy). But I think now is not the time to talk next year. We need to be concentrating on what will get us to the Finals THIS YEAR. And Marvin playing respectable with Joe, Josh, and Al playing outstanding (a little Crawford here and there) and we might be able to get this thing done.

Willy

April 21st, 2010
1:52 pm

JJ is very good, but he’s not an elite player – try to compare Chipper Jones’ hitting ability vs Albert Pujols’. Even in his prime Chipper didn’t have Albert’s abilities.

Chi Town B

April 21st, 2010
2:18 pm

Ok for you guys that say we dont’t need joe, who are we going to get with the money we save from joe leaving?? We can’t let joe leave, I don’t want to see us loose him! Every team we play needs to always be aware of JJ!! Every year he an all star and he was on the olympic team so others know he’s a stud! I think we take him for granted cause he’s so quite. Bottom line ATLANTA DON’T LET JOE JOHNSON LEAVE!! And we need ot stop giving teague mins in the playoffs! Give him the summer to find a Jump Shot cause now that push shot isn’t working. Keep Bibby in the game. Just telling ya how I see it. Biggest Hawks fan Not in Hotlanta! I’ll be chillin 2nd row behind the bench in MILWAUKEE.

Saabotager

April 21st, 2010
4:33 pm

Not only should he have been name to the All Star team, he should’ve been selected over Joe (Wants out of Atlanta) Johnson.

ant banks

April 21st, 2010
4:53 pm

JEFF ET AL,

this is the main reason why i get sick and tired of hearin’ people say the horford needs to be a 4. SMOOVE is our 4. horford<smoove at the 4 position.

ant banks

April 21st, 2010
4:57 pm

the asg should have offered jj 75mil/5. to offer him 60/4 is leavin’ him azzed out when he turns 33. he won’t get a BIG contract goin’ into his 11th year. i think that he would have taken 75/5.

besides, jj ain’t leavin’. who builds a castle then walk away. jj built this, he is loyal. he most def don’t want the NY stage.

by the way, ONLY atlanta can offer him the most money, so if money is the issue, atlanta wins.

Hawks Fan

April 21st, 2010
4:59 pm

Is it me but….
-Why does ZaZa have to committ at minimum 1 moving screen per game?
-Why does Mo have to get 2 quick fouls as soon as he enters the game?
-Why isn’t Joe Smith playing a little bit more minutes, I understand situational minutes and all, but it seems like he would bring a little more power to both sides of the ball.
Again, I am not sure but it could be me….

Sam

April 21st, 2010
5:13 pm

Hey Barnacle

J

SMOOOOOOOOOOOOOVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

KND

April 21st, 2010
6:01 pm

First I want everyone to know I am Josh Smith #1 fan he can’t be stopped!!! Second Joe Johnson is a great player he’s silent but deadly.

[...] ♦ When Josh Smith is on, the Hawks can’t be stopped [...]

Rev. Ricky

April 22nd, 2010
1:01 am

Hawks Fan – got nothing for you on the first two, but I think the fact that Joe Smith is not logging many minutes is proof that Woody knows we are going deep this year. We got Joe for depth against the larger front lines in Orlando and Cleveland. Let’s keep our extra bigs as fresh as can be and let Josh and Al develop some major confidence this series that will carry over!

Patrick

April 22nd, 2010
3:24 am

Best two-way player in the league not named LeBron.

[...] talking about the long held belief that Josh Smith is the Hawk’s x-factor, Jeff Schultz gets a nice quote from said factor. File under 85% [...]

Hawks Fan In New Orleans

April 24th, 2010
1:13 pm

Chi Town B – I see are fired-up in Milwaukee but The title of the biggest fan not in Atlanta belongs to me!

northcyde

April 25th, 2010
9:03 pm

And seeing that you wrote this before the Game 3 debacle, I’ll validate what you just said Mr. Schultz.

JOSH SMITH’S production in the 9 playoff road losses:

— 2008 —

vs Boston:

( Game 1 ) . . 3 – 10 FG . . 0 – 0 FT . . 6 pts . . 7 rebs . . 2 asst . . 3 blks . . 1 stl
( Game 2 ) . . 3 – 13 FG . . 7 – 10 FT . . 13 pts . . 8 rebs . . 3 asst . . 4 blks . . 2 stls
( Game 5 ) . . 4 – 13 FG . .10 – 10 FT . . 18 pts . . 5 rebs . . 3 asst . . 1 blk . . 3 stls
( Game 7 ) . . 3 – 11 FG . . 1 – 2 FT . . 7 pts . . 4 rebs . . 2 asst . . 1 blk . . 2 stls

— 2009 —

vs Miami:

( Game 3 ) . . 4 – 14 FG . . 4 – 5 FT . . 13 pts . . 8 rebs . . 0 asst . . 1 blk . . 0 stls
( Game 6 ) . . 3 – 13 FG . . 1 – 3 FT . . 7 pts . . 10 rebs. . 0 asst . . 3 blks . . 1 stl

vs Cleveland:

( Game 1 ) . . 8 – 15 FG . . 6 – 10 FT . . 22 pts . . 6 rebs . . 2 asst . . 1 blk . . 0 stls
( Game 2 ) . . 2 – 13 FG . . 4 – 4 FT . . 8 pts . . 1 reb . . 3 asst . . 1 blk . . 1 stl

2010 —- vs Milwaukee:

( Game 3 ) . . 2 – 12 FG . . 3 – 6 FT . . 7 pts . . 12 rebs . . 1 asst . . 1 blk . . 0 stls

********************

JOSH SMITH’S production in the 8 playoff home wins:

— 2008 —

vs Boston:

( Game 3 ) . . 11 – 17 FG . . 2 – 3 FT . . 27 pts . . 9 rebs . . 6 asst . . 1 blk . . 2 stls
( Game 4 ) . . 8 – 16 FG . . 12 – 13 FT . . 28 pts . . 6 rebs . . 2 asst . . 7 blks . . 2 stls
( Game 6 ) . . 3 – 8 FG . . 5 – 6 FT . . 11 pts . . 6 rebs . . 2 asst . . 3 blks . . 0 stls

— 2009 —

vs Miami:

( Game 1 ) . . 9 – 14 FG . . 5 – 6 FT . . 23 pts . . 10 rebs . . 2 asst . . 0 blks . . 3 stls
( Game 5 ) . . 6 – 16 FG . . 7 – 9 FT . . 20pts . . 8 rebs . . 4 asst . . 2 blks . . 2 stls
( Game 7 ) . . 7 – 12 FG . . 7 – 8 FT . . 21pts . . 9 rebs . . 3 asst . . 1 blk . . 2 stls

— 2010 —

vs Milwaukee:

( Game 1 ) . . 6 – 10 FG . . 0 – 2 FT . . 12 pts . . 10 rebs . . 4 asst . . 4 blks . . 0 stls
( Game 2 ) . . 9 – 11 FG . . 3 – 3 FT . . 21 pts . . 14 rebs . . 9 asst . . 2 blks . . 2 stls

*************************

Just for a summary:

In 9 playoff road losses, these are his numbers:

11.2 ppg . . ( 32 – 114 ) 28% FG . . ( 36 – 50 ) 72% FT
6.8 rebs
1.8 asst
1.8 blks
1.1 stls

His numbers in 8 playoff home wins:

20.4 ppg . . ( 59 – 104 ) 56.7% FG . . ( 41 – 50 ) 82% FT
9.0 rebs
4.0 asst
2.5 blks
1.6 stls

This is incredible actually. I know players tend to play better at home . . but damn. You might see this kind of disparity in a role player, but not usually for a starter. The difference in shooting percentage is mind boggling.