If a little late-game benching was all it took to wake Josh Smith up, Hawks coach Mike Woodson should have done it a week ago. Smith was on the bench late in a loss to the Spurs Wednesday night, penance for his late-game mishaps in losses to Dallas and Houston earlier in the week.Woodson was trying to send Smith a message, something akin to "enough is enough."
"Josh is five years in the league now, man," Woodson said after Smith's 5-for-19 shooting effort in the loss to the Rockets. "And it comes down to time, score and situation. That's the bottom line. We're not telling him he can't shoot three-pointers but if you miss four or five jump shots, something has to go off in his head that says, 'I have to do something else.'"
It happened Friday night, with Smith as the triggerman for a 32-13 third quarter outburst in a 87-73 win over Miami that finally put the Hawks back on track after three straight losses.
Smith barely left a footprint against the Spurs, managing just four points (on 1-for-5 shooting), three rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in his limited time on the floor. But he was all over the floor against the Heat in that third quarter, fulfilling the words of Hawks captain Joe Johnson.
"We can't win when those guys don't play well," Johnson said of Smith and Marvin Williams. "We put ourselves in a terrible situation when that happens."
Woodson was even more specific.
"In order for us to win, Josh has to be more of a complete player," Woodson said. "That's no knock. That's just reality. Now a lot of that is I don't think he's in great shape yet and he's still trying to play on the fly from his injury. So I've got to get him back in shape and I've got to get him back to playing sound basketball, solid basketball, for a full 48 minutes."
Smith knows it's true.
The Hawks started the season 4-0 with him in the lineup and making his presence felt all over the floor and as the tone-setter for their suffocating defense. But when he went down with a high ankle sprain, the Hawks went 6-6 with him out of the lineup. "Obviously, I want to be out there on the court doing everything I can to help my team," said Smith, who admitted that his aggression and desire to help his team sometimes gets the best of him. "I just have to stay with whatever the defense gives me and stay confident in myself and I'll be fine.
"And after being out with an injury, it does take some time to get your timing back and to get to the point where you're doing things to be effective. But overall, it's important for me to lock in and really study my own performance and be my own toughest critic so I don't continue to repeat the same mistakes. That's definitely on me."
HAWKS 87, HEAT 73: Mike Woodson and Josh Smith have perfected the art of making up after four years, and counting, of working together as coach and player.
So when the Hawks' coach grabbed Smith by the arm near the end of the third quarter and the Hawks leading big over Miami, all the drama of the previous 48 hours was washed away. Smith was the catalyst for the Hawks' 32-13 surge that sparked their 87-73 win over the Heat Friday night at American Airlines Arena.
Two days after being benched during crunch time in a loss to the Spurs, the Hawks' fifth-year power forward was the energy at the center of the Hawks' storm during that third quarter run.
"I just told him that's the Josh Smith we need to play for us," Woodson said. "He has to fly around and make things happen for us from a defensive standpoint. And when you're struggling to shoot the ball you either have to go get an offensive rebound, a steal, a block or something to get yourself going and in turn get us going."
The Hawks used a 17-1 run over the final five minutes of the third quarter and a stifling defensive effort from the end of the first quarter on to snatch the momentum from their Southeast Division rivals and earn their first win in a week.
"I thought it was our team defense," said Woodson, whose team improved to 13-9. "After the first quarter we really locked in defensively and started playing like we did the first six games. That's the best I've seen us play defensively.
"It was a total team effort defensively and in trying to corral (Dwyane) Wade. And in the third quarter I thought we finally broke out of our shooting slump and that helped us on our way."