Smith Carries Depleted Hawks
Josh Smith and Larry Drew on effect of injuries.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
Josh Smith said he wasn’t worried about how the team would perform despite huge holes in the lineup due to injuries. The already undersized Hawks have had to adjust to playing without two centers in Al Horford and Jason Collins for the majority of the season. Entering Friday’s game against the Bucks, the team was left without All-Star Joe Johnson (knee tendinitis) and Willie Green (back spasms).
“Guys just have to step up and keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Smith said. “Someone always seems to blossom when another guy is down and out. We have a lot of veteran pros on this team that might not get the minutes that they do deserve. When guys come out of the lineup due to injuries, somebody’s always willing to step up so I’m really not worried about that.”
On Friday, the player who blossomed was Josh. Notching a double-double by halftime, Smith maintained tremendous intensity on both ends of the floor. On his mindset, Smith said, “Just trying to set the tone, understanding that I’m one of the captains on this team and I gotta lead by example. I wanted to come out and play with a lot of energy and I was able to do that and I was able to get off to a good start and be able to set the tone.”
Before the game, Smith said he wasn’t thinking about having extra responsibilities on the floor. “I just keep trying to play the way I’m capable of playing and playing my game.”
Despite his play, the Hawks trailed 76-65 entering the fourth quarter. It was the bench that came up big, with four reserves playing the entire final period. Pargo scored all 11 of his points in the fourth, as the bench totaled 32 of the Hawks’ 34 points.
“I definitely have to tip my hat off to my teammates who rarely get a lot of playing time. They came out and exerted a lot of energy and they played terrific tonight,” said Smith.
Smith finished with 24 points, 19 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks, but what impressed Coach Larry Drew most was what he noticed when Smith was out of the game. “Not only the energy that he displayed on the court, but on the bench during the timeouts. I’m starting to see a Josh Smith develop into a very, very true professional… the things that I’m starting to hear—him on the bench, talking to the players—is absolutely, it’s a coach’s dream. When he’s out there playing with the energy on both ends of the floor, it just makes us a better ball club… we feed off his energy,” said Drew.
He added, “During the timeouts, he’s going over and grabbing [his teammates] and he’s talking to them and he’s pointing out things. One thing about Josh, he’s a very intelligent player. He sees things even before they even happen. The way he carried himself on the bench tonight, particularly with us being a little depleted tonight, it was something that I know the guys really embraced. You could see their reaction when he was talking to them and he was encouraging them. Once he got back in the game, he didn’t come in and he didn’t like glide into trying to get the energy back up. He came in and the energy was there right off the bat. I thought he played a phenomenal game.”
On whether this is the most depleted he has ever seen the Hawks, Smith said, “Yeah, yeah it is. But due to the scheduling and the impact of playing every other day, it’s definitely a lot of wear and tear going on. Around the League, it’s been a lot of injuries. We just have to be able to fight through it and try to maintain while those guys are out and try to hold them down until they get back.”
Asked the same question, Drew said, “Since I’ve been here, yes it is. Yes it is.”
Johnson and Green are out Saturday against the Thunder, and the Hawks begin a six-game road trip in Indiana on Tuesday. While injuries have been an unfortunate theme this season for the Hawks, and for the League as a whole, Friday’s game showed that when the Hawks need a leader, they have one in Josh Smith.