ATLANTA (AP)—Josh Smith(notes) swooped in to slam through Joe Johnson’s(notes) missed shot just ahead of the buzzer and the Atlanta Hawks finally beat the Orlando Magic, clinching a third straight trip to the playoffs with an 86-84 victory Wednesday night.
The Hawks bounced back from an early 15-2 deficit and overcame going 8:45 in the fourth quarter without a field goal against a division rival that had routed them three times this season. For Atlanta, it came down to the final shot of regulation for the fifth straight game.
After Vince Carter(notes) hit a long 3-pointer with 9.9 seconds left to tie it at 84, the Hawks rushed down the court to set up Johnson for the potential winning shot. He drove the baseline and put up a one-hander, which bounced off the far side of the rim.
But the Magic failed to block out Smith, who soared through the air for a slam just before the red light went on. The officials checked the replay just to be sure—it showed Smith dunking it with 0.01 seconds remaining.
The teams combined for only nine baskets in the final period, with Atlanta enduring a drought that didn’t end until Smith hit a baseline jumper with 1:38 remaining and the shot clock running down. Orlando, after hitting six of its first 10 shots, finished 27 of 72 for a dismal 38 percent.continue
In late twenties, Russian theorist Vladimir Propp boldly proclaimed that there were only seven kinds of stories. Actually, it wasn't that bold a proclamation; Propp was only talking about folktales, and if you try to use his constructs anywhere else, they fall apart quick fast. Still, the basic idea is a meaty one, the kind of thing that makes you want to take another at Gilgamesh, Beowulf ... or the 2010 NBA All-Stars.
For starters, you've got the perennials, folks like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony. These are also on each year's MVP shortlist, possible Hall of Famers, and the players synonymous with the NBA at this moment. Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson are legends on their way off into the sunset. Kevin Durant and Brandon Roy will be taking their place.
Paul Pierce and Pau Gasol are excellent players who benefit from being on powerhouse teams; Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are underrated stars who will finish their careers with a decent number of appearances, denied top billing in part because their teams aren't usually contending. Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo are young and exciting but with futures cloudy in the magic eight ball. Zach Randolph and Gerald Wallace have come knockin' before, and this time finally earned entry. The East needed another center, and Al Horford's been crucial to the Hawks.That's actually eight types, but you get the point.
Then there's Josh Smith, the spring-loaded Hawks forward who was conspicuously absent from yesterday's reserves. It's not just that Smith is deserving of a spot on the East squad -- he would have been a new kind of All-Star.
As has been discussed previously around these parts, Smith might be enjoying a better season than his high-scoring teammate Joe Johnson. Not to take anything away from Horford, but Smith is certainly outplaying the third-year big. He's a legitimate two-way threat who, while still as scintillating a finisher and shot-blocker as ever, has streamlined his game and improved his decision-making. No more passes to nowhere, three-pointers on a whim, or contorted attempts at orthodox post play. Atlanta's record isn't much better than it was at this point a year ago, when Smith seemed to have regressed (in all fairness, he was also nursing an ankle injury). But the Hawks are a team to be taken seriously this season, and a lot of that has to do with the presence of Smith.
What's so exceptional about a young player fulfilling his All-Star potential? For one, Smith isn't exactly young. He's been in the league since 2004, when the Hawks drafted him out of high school with the seventeenth pick. By then, teenage picks were given every opportunity to get minutes; long gone was the philosophy of bringing them along slowly. So while Smith is only 24 years old, his five and a half seasons make him a vet.
And Smith's 2009-10 isn't just a case of a breakout season in which a promising talent gets praised for "putting it all together" or "turning a corner." There's a reason he's only making a little over $10 million this season: When Smith hit the market as a restricted free agent in 2008, too many teams saw a player whose upside was counterbalanced by bad habits and rumors of petulance. What's more, Smith didn't just hit the pros merely in need of fine-tuning. He was a raw athlete whose game consisted mostly of raising hell, so indicative of the trend to draft with potential in mind, that Jay Bilas swore to all manner of gods that Smith would be the biggest bust of the whole class.
High school picks panned out more frequently than their college-seasoned peers. But they tended to be boom-or-bust propositions. The unusual cases have been those like Smith, or J.R. Smith, taken one pick later by New Orleans: Egregiously gifted players, who although they made big plays and had memorable nights, remained inconsistent, incomplete, and frequently immature. Travis Outlaw (especially today) and sometimes Andray Blatche are other poster children for this group.
Then this season, Josh Smith – previously known mostly as the 2005 dunk contest champ and a shot-blocking terror – inaugurated a new cliché. After six seasons of fumbling around, showing flashes, and frequently serving as his own worst enemy, Smith finally got himself together. While J.R. continues to pout and fume in Denver, and Outlaw remains as baffling as ever, J-Smoov proved that preps-to-pros stars don't have to be either overnight successes or pampered projects; that it's possible to grow up in public and learn adulthood on the fly even if it takes a while; and that a player who came into the NBA with few discernible skills aside from leaping (and timing swats) can refine himself into a potential Defensive Player of the Year. Maybe that should read "can be refined," since Smith has also learned to accept coaching, worked out his relationship with Mike Woodson, and has no right to the "Loose Nukes" I tried to bestow upon him last season.
Call Smith the prodigal son, the long road to the Promised Land, or proof that sometimes, that proverbial light bulb can chase away some especially thick dusk. It's exactly the kind of transformation that should be rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game, and evidence of hard work that flies in the face of Smith's reputation as a gifted athlete who got by on physical ability. He's surpassed Iguodala, every bit the athlete as Smith but supposedly blessed with superior basketball IQ and the soul of a golden fossil -- and the fatter paycheck to show for it. We just don't see many All-Stars who fit the Josh Smith Paradigm; it's a change of direction, or resolution of opposites, that's rare among athletes. Hell, the league should also want Smith in the ASG for making it look good at player development.
Smith doesn't need an All-Star trip to make his season worthwhile, or his career arc significant. But not only does it seem like the next scene in the screenplay. If we're serious about recognizing players willing to apply themselves and serve the forces of good, putting Josh Smith in the All-Star Game is the right thing to do.
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They aren't backing down. And have played in the last two games with more passion and energy than any other playoff team.
Josh Smith has stepped up his game. He led the team offensively in Game 3. And led them with his defense in Game 4.
Al Horhord is playing like a veteran. He got into Pierce's face jawing, like he's not a rookie.
Joe Johnson has finally taken over a game, carrying the Hawks in the 4th quarter.
Bibby has finally played like a playoff veteran, steadying the Hawks on offense.
Boston is still the team to beat in the series. But the Hawks have are dangerous and could come up with the biggest upset in NBA history. Everyone's noticing them now.
... Is Josh Smith finally going to the All-Stars?
A Case for T-Mac (MVP candidacy)
Several "analysts" are already dismissing the chants from fans that T-Mac is MVP. I disagree. And I think you would disagree too. Because for and analyst to say that the streak happened because Houston has "several MVPs" is to be an analyst who over analyzed. The simplest explanation for the streak is the superstar, the supporting cast, and the coach.
Guys are stepping up in Houston - true. But as a player you would know that everything always starts with the super star. This group of role players could not string a streak of even 5 wins without their leader, without someone telling
them before every game "we can win this one", without someone making them believe in themselves, and without someone taking and making the big time shots.
Adelman has done a great job. The team is playing well together. But talking about MVP, the super star of the hottest team should be on top of the list.
A couple of years ago we gave Steve Nash the MVP because he led, Amare and Marion, both All-Stars, to winning seasons. He won MVP twice because without his leadership the Suns couldn't rise. Why should we deny, T-Mac now, who is leading Alston, Battier, Deke, and some rookies to 22 wins, and the top spot in the West - ahead of all the other the teams, the title of MVP even before the voting has started.
Lebron and his Cavs are 7 games behind 4th place Orlando. And 3 just games ahead of the Bosh-less Raptors. In the East. Lebron might be exponentially better than T-Mac. But MVP doesn't have to mean best player on the planet. The Rocket's W's make McGrady a more valuable player right now.
Kobe and his Lakers have lost two straight with Pau Gasol out. But everyone would probably still readily give him the MVP trophy. It seems everyone has forgotten that Kobe can't win either until his supporting cast improved. Battier's consistent play, Dike's defense, Alston's great play of late shouldn't count against T-Mac.
Of course it is too early to declare T-Mac MVP. There are 16 games to go. T-Mac could falter in the coming days and so could his team. But at this very moment, at win #22, the votes should be on him.
What was Jordan's Bulls' longest winning streak? Even the greatest player ever could not carry his team to more than 12 straight wins (I think).
Most analysts attribute the winning streak to team play. Rightly so, Alston, Battier, Scola, and even aging Dikembe and rookies Landry and Harris are stepping up. Defense has been the key for most of the wins. And defense is definitely team effort.
But even so, with all of the Rockets stepping up, the streak wouldn't have been possible without their superstar Tracy McGrady. He is the MVP of the streak. Not only for his upped stats, and his crunch time plays, but more importantly for his polarizing leadership.
MVP is the Most Valuable Player of the team. If you take away the MVP of the team, they would struggle. If LeBron and Kobe sit out games, their teams will lose. In the case of Houston Rockets. It's a little different. If TMac wasn't playing, the role players of Houston, no matter how high they raise the level of their game, could never string up a streak of 5 wins. Everything starts with McGrady. The attention of the defense is always with him now, the ball is in his hands when crunch time comes. If TMac sits, the team could never streak because he is the reason everyone is playing better.
One analyst say that TMac's stats, efficiency rating is only good to rank 30th best player on the NBA. What he failed to mention though is that TMac's scoring is up to 25ppg even when opposing teams now double team him instead of Yao.
The Rockets are also currently sitting at the top of the Western Conference from 6th when Yao was around. Other clear MVP candidates, LeBron's Cavs are 4th in the East, just ahead of the Bosh-less Raptors. Kobe's Lakers were surging - but has lost two straight now with Pau Gasol out with injury.
These analysts says TMac isn't MVP:
Johnny Ludden's Yahoo column
Henry Abbott's Espn column
After two years of silence. I've resolved to pick up Josh Smith / Atlanta Hawks blogging pen.
He still hasn't made it to All-Star this year. But so did Joe Johnson. And unless the Hawks start winning, it probably won't happen.
What Smoove needs to do to crack the All-Star elite club:
- Average 20 ppg. He's still at 17+ .. But with a better point guard in Mike Bibby now on board, he has a chance to do it next year.
- Maintain his 5 cat stats stuffing play. 20 ppg - 8 reb -4 ast -1.5 stls -3 blks would sure be an eye catcher.
- Improve his FT% ... He'll crack 20 ppg easily when he does improve from the line.
- Hawks need to win a playoff series... Gilbert Arenas finally made the All-Star when the Wizards made splash during the playoffs. (or was it when he started blogging)
... tied at 9 with New Jersey. The Hawks are a better talent right now they should be able to make it to the playoffs. Josh Smith usually tears it up in the second half of the season so they have a better chance.