In a crucial Game 4, Josh Smith stuffed the stat sheet as the Hawks shut down the Pacers 102-91.
By JOHN MANASSOFS South
ATLANTA — The enigma that is Josh Smith could have been playing his final game at Philips Arena as a member of the
Atlanta Hawks in Game 4 of this first-round playoff series.
A pending unrestricted free agent a few months from now, Smith played in a way that ensured that he would suit up for at least one more game in the city in which he is a native and where he has played all of his professional basketball.
The nine-year veteran scored a playoff career-high 29 points to go with 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a blocked shot, as the Hawks beat the
Pacers 102-91 to even this series at 2-2.
Each team has held serve at home, and Indiana did it in large part on the back of Paul George, who scored 23 and 27 points, respectively, in the first two games. However, once the series shifted to Atlanta, Hawks coach Larry Drew decided to defend George with Smith, who finished as runner-up for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2009-10.
Going into the fourth quarter on Monday, Smith had outscored George 22-7.
“I thought Josh Smith played a phenomenal game again,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “The challenge of trying to defend Paul George, I thought he took the challenge and I thought he was real good. Everything that George made, I thought he earned. And that’s all you can ask for. He’s a terrific player.”
The Hawks held a 17-point advantage at halftime, as Smith led the way with 16. But their offense bogged down in the third quarter and they made only three field goals (Smith went 0-for-6 in playing all 12 minutes). Al Horford sat with foul trouble, playing just 3:35 in the period, and Devin Harris, who was effective in pushing the pace again, played only 5:10, as he was dehydrated and had to receive intravenous fluids at halftime, delaying his participation in the third quarter.
That allowed the Pacers to scrape their way back, but late in the game, when it counted, Smith helped deliver. Indiana cut the lead to 86-81 when Smith made a 3-pointer, falling dramatically to the floor after his follow-through with 3:08 left in regulation.
Indiana answered, making it 89-83, but Smith came up big again on the Hawks’ ensuing possession. He grabbed the rebound of Horford’s missed lay-up and found Kyle Korver for a 3-pointer, picking up an assist in the process that pushed the lead to 92-83 and forced the Pacers to call timeout with 2:03 left.
The Pacers never got within seven after that.
Horford said the energy with which Smith played stood out.
“I feel like when he plays with that level of energy, we’re such a different team,” Horford said. “And not that he doesn’t do it all the time. But when he’s committed to doing all the little things and things like that, it makes a big difference for us.”
Smith was asked what the Hawks must take from this game and carry forward when the series returns to Indiana for Game 5 on Wednesday.
“Energy and effort,” he said. “If we play with those two words and play together — those three words, let me take that back — we’re a pretty good basketball team,” he said. “It’s not going to always work defensively. We’re not always going to run the defensive play to the tee every time.
“The way we scrambled out of double teams, the way we helped each other out when they dribble-drived and we contested pretty much every jump shot that they took, that’s what it's going to take for us to be able to compete up there in their arena.”
The win represented the Hawks’ 13th in a row over Indiana at Philips Arena, dating to 2006. That bodes well for Game 6 back here on Friday. But to win the series, they are going to have to steal one on the road.
As Horford said, when Smith brings that energy, the Hawks are tough to beat. If he does it on the road on Wednesday, he might be able to add a few more home games to his resume.