The first and third quarter performances from Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith in Tuesday's 101-96 road win over Indiana Pacers is the type of play that gives defenders and coaches around the league nightmares. That's right, J-Smoove's jumpshots found the bottom of the net with an intimidating regularity on Tuesday night. Smith scored so often and so efficiently in the odd-numbered quarters that he needed time to recover and help to finish the job at the end of both halves. In the end, he got just enough support to his 27-point game, and the Hawks escaped with another important road win in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Pacers got next to nothing from Darren Collison (five points and four assists), not nearly enough from Paul George (11 points on 3-11 shooting) and a numbing sensation that accompanies their sixth-straight loss to a team with a record better than .500 record.
Josh Smith simply owned the odd-numbered quarters. With jumpshots, drives, cuts and dives all available in his arsenal at a moment's notice, the hyper-athletic Hawks forward couldn't be stopped by anyone else on the floor. Roy HIbbert couldn't do it. David West couldn't do it. Danny Granger couldn't do it. Smith just wore himself down a bit out while playing well in intense bursts. In the opening period, Smith couldn't miss; he attacked the rim and mixed in three jumpers for 13 quick points on a perfect 6-6 shooting. At the start of the second half he really got the jumpshot going, nailing all five of his shots outside the paint for another 11 points on an immaculate 5-5 shooting. That's how you start a half.
All told, Smith scored a whopping 24 points on a devastatingly efficient 11-11 shooting in the first and third quarters combined. The only problem? He stumbled to just 3 points on 1-8 from the field in the second and fourth periods and looked a bit winded at the end of each half after posting such amazing numbers in the odd-numbered quarters. In other words, his game-high 27 point and nine rebound performance was odd, but certainly not "even" in any sense of the word.
The Hawks bench picked up the slack when Smith got tired. In the second, Ivan Johnson dumped in seven of his nine points and grabbed all four of his rebounds, while Jannero Pargo got his scoring night started with five quick points. In fact, Atlanta only held off David West (24 points, three rebounds), Danny Granger (19 points, eight rebounds), Roy Hibbert (13 points, eight rebounds) and the Pacers because Zaza Pachulia and Jannero Pargo propped up the scoring down the stretch.
To put it another more alarming way, the Pacers repeatedly struggled to defend a high pick and roll combination play between Tracy McGrady and Zaza Pachulia, with Jannero Pargo operating on the weak side. While Josh Smith put up a goose egg in the final period Pargo and Pachulia improbably joined forced to produce 17 of the Hawks' 25 fourth quarter points. Atlanta kept going back to the well, and things kept working out well enough to keep the lead as Pacers defenders rotated a step too slowly. In sum, Pargo chipped in 16 points, Pachulia added a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double and T-Mac dished out six dimes.
As for the Pacers, they got a strong scoring game from West (10-13 shooting for 24 points), and inefficient one from Granger (8-17 for 19 points), a disappointing one from Paul George (3-11 for 11 points) and poor one from Collison. The two-guard offense with Collison and George Hill turned into a one-guard offense with Hill by the end. Darren looked sloppy and sluggish for most of the night, while Hill perked up and put in 15 points and six assists in 26 minutes. He attacked mismatches by slashing to the hoop and finishing strong, while Collison didn't look like he could create a favorable mismatch. Hill has been pushing for that starting spot with strong play recently, and Tuesday marked another step in that progression.
The Hawks only scored six points in the final 5:20 of the game after taking a 95-87 lead on the back end of a Zaza and-one free throw, but the Pacers failed to capitalize. In the final 120 seconds, Hill settled for an errant long three first, then Danny Granger airballed a three out of a timeout. Even as they cut the deficit to 97-96 on a awkward Granger drive, he missed an isolation three from the top of the key to potentially tie it with 16 seconds left, and Marvin Williams (the on-ball defender) intercepted Hibbert's attempt to save the ball and finally sealed the game from the line in chase-and-foul theater.
The Pacers fell to 23-14 overall, while the Hawks improved to 23-15 and claimed the potentially important head-to-head tiebreaker with the win.