A new Josh Smith was on the verge of a legendary performance through three quarters of the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night game against the Detroit Pistons. Thank goodness for the Pistons, the old Josh Smith showed up to stop him.
In the game's first 36 minutes Smith had 30 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and was positively dominating on defense. His stat line doesn't begin to tell the story of how efficient, effective and high energy he was in every phase of the game. But as the fourth quarter wore on Smith wore down, took bad shots and finished with just one more point in the fourth quarter and both overtime periods to finish with 31.
Still, the Hawks managed to step up as a team in J Smoove's late-game absence to get the win, 126-119.
Smith, himself, acknowledged his disappearing act in the game's final periods. But, he said, sometimes that's what basketball is all about.
"I played pretty well," Smith remarked after the victory. "I could've finished better, but that's what teammates are for. This is a team game."
Right as Smith was hitting the freezer on the floor (he went 0-7, including 0-4 in overtime), the Pistons' Will Bynum was getting red hot. The fifth year shooting guard went on a scoring spree in the fourth quarter and two overtimes, torching the helpless-looking Hawks for 15 points in the final quarter and 11 in the two overtimes on the way to 31 total points off the bench.
"[I'm] just doing it," Bynum said of his big night. "I've been doing this every single day in practice. I finally got a chance to show it on the floor today."
Al Horford, despite missing some big free throws at the end of the game, stepped up in overtime to help carry the Hawks. He finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, his 14th double-double of the season and his seventh time putting up 20 and 10.
Jeff Teague and Lou Williams were also key for the Hawks, hitting big shots in big moments and matching Detroit from long range. Teague was the MVP of overtime, scoring from seemingly anywhere on the floor he wanted. He locked the game up on a driving layup in which he went right past the entire Pistons team. Teauge and Williams scored 17 and 18 points respectively.
Despite the win, the big story in Atlanta will be the play of Smith, who stood at the door of greatness and couldn't seem to take the next step.
Coach Drew thought fatigue played a factor.
"I thought he got a little tired," Drew said of Smith. "The first three quarters he did a phenomenal job. I probably played him too many minutes and definitely he was guarding everyone on the floor. He settled for some jump shots late, he got a little tired. But that doesn't take away from the job that I thought he did."
Smith played a total of 48 minutes and 38 minutes through four quarters on Wednesday, not significantly more than the 34.7 minutes per game he's averaged this season.
In truth, Smith looked afraid and uncertain in the fourth quarter and the two overtimes that followed. He seemed to be all too aware of the moment and simply unprepared to seize it.