Josh Smith has a certain stubborn quality, an open defiance of conventional wisdom, if you will, that either infuriates or endears him to fans, friends and teammates alike.
Even when no one else believes in the enigmatic Hawks power forward, Smith tends to believe in himself and his abilities.
It’s that “me against the world attitude” that Smith has embraced in each of the Hawks’ last two games, the latest a stunning 97-90 win over the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder at Philips Arena, that has helped the Hawks rebound from an ugly home loss to Golden State last week.
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The Hawks ended the Thunder’s seven-game win streak and lit a fire under the crowd, which didn’t seem terribly confident in the home team’s chance at knocking off Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the mighty Thunder. They also head out on the road for their six-game road trip (starting Tuesday at Indiana) with back-to-back wins and the sort of confidence-booster needed to get them through another rough patch on the schedule.
“I know what it probably looked like to people,” Smith said. “Here we are playing without our two All-Stars (Joe Johnson and Al Horford) on a Saturday night, and they (the Thunder) come in here hot as hell. On paper, we probably shouldn’t have won this game. But we have a way of defying the odds and doing things that no one outside of our locker room thinks we’re capable of. That’s just who we are.”
That’s just who Smith is. Still smarting over being left off of the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the third straight season, Smith has decided to just let his play do the talking from now on. So his season-high-tying 30 points and 12 rebounds, including 13 and seven in a man-to-man showdown with Durant down the stretch, was just his latest zinger at the coaches that left him off the team.
“He is one of the few players in this league that can impact games on both ends of the floor,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “When it’s all said and done, I think he’ll be an All-Star in this league, an All-Pro. Because his talent is so great that when he puts it all together, and I still think he hasn’t put it all together, that’s just who he’ll be.”
Smith will still probably be the hard-headed nightmare matchup he’s always been, a guy that can dominate games on the low block at times but still loves to drift to the perimeter — where he answered a huge Durant 3 in the game’s final minutes to help preserve the win.
“I’m going to keep playing the game way I always have,” said Smith, who is leaving no doubt as to who the Hawks’ emotional leader is and has been for quite some time. “I play with my heart, and you can see it beating through my jersey at all times.”
-The Hawks lost their best facilitator, veteran swingman Tracy McGrady, in the first half and still found a way to be effective down the stretch with a two-point guard attack featuring Kirk Hinrich and Jeff Teague.
McGrady strained his left knee after just one minute of action and did not return.
But the Hawks made up the difference by committee, with Jannero Pargo playing quality minutes along with Hinrich and Teague.
You can add McGrady to the Hawks’ list of walking wounded. His availability for the six-game, 11-day road trip has not yet been determined.
-As they often do, the Hawks made a mockery of the box score.
They were walloped in fast-break points 20-4 and allowed both Durant (35 points) and Russell Westbrook (25) to do what they usually do best, and somehow still came away with the win.
It might have something to do with an absolutely dominant performance from Smith and Zaza Pachulia inside — they combined for 40 points and 26 rebounds. The Hawks outscored the Thunder 42-26 in the paint, giving them the edge in one category that ultimately tipped the scales in their favor.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“We had to dig in down there and fight. And that’s what we did.” — Zaza Pachulia on the inside work he did, collecting 14 rebounds and 10 points against the Thunder.