The Atlanta Hawks earned home court advantage in their NBA Playoff series with the Boston Celtics with a late-season run, but very few pundits figured they would be able to capitalize on that against the veteran-laden Celtics. Sunday's game proved they won't go down easy, if at all, thanks to the play of Josh Smith and the rest of Atlanta.
Smith, a forward who might be better known for taking terrible jump shots than by going by the nickname Smoove, is an enigma: He does a lot of things that are very, very good in the context of a basketball game ... but sometimes he shoots way too often from beyond the arc (a shot he's yet to master since coming out of high school in 2004).
Smith surprisingly brought almost all of the good and nearly none of the bad for Sunday evening's series-opening game, scoring 22 points to complement his 18 rebounds and four assists as the Hawks came away with an 83-74 victory. Smoove's impact was even greater than the box score shows, however, as he scored or assisted on eight of the team's first 16 points as Atlanta jumped out to a 16-4 lead to set the pace while showing Boston they wouldn't have a first round cakewalk.
The Highlight Factory, as the Hawks home court at Philips Arena is oft-referred to, certainly lived up to its name on Sunday afternoon. As far as Smith was concerned, however, his game didn't rely on anything flashy -- despite the gaudy numbers. Instead, he subsisted on a steady diet of using his perimeter skills to take the Celtics bigs off the dribble and to the bucket -- the most memorable basket being a coast-to-coast possession that ended with Smoove taking Kevin Garnett to the rack early in the first quarter to make everyone realize it's going to be a tough task for the Celtics to contain Smith this series.
Smith wasn't without his faults, however, as four of his 20 field goal attempts were legitimately awful (and two more could have been considered that, had they not found their way through the rim). That number is a far cry from some of his games in the past, however, and may have represented the fact that Smith is turning over a new leaf for the postseason.
There's a solid chance too, though, that Sunday afternoon was simply an aberration and we're all going to see Smoove hoist up 25-foot airballs when Game 2 commences on Tuesday night. For the sake of solid basketball, however, let's hope that the Hawks continue to go through Smith and he continues to deliver as a competent basketball player ... without having to add the caveat that he shoots too many bad shots.