It’s Wednesday, so it’s time for a few thoughts on Detroit Pistons’ basketball. Today, we focus on Josh Smith, the high-flying former Atlanta Hawk.
A Little Background: The Pistons visited Indianapolis to face the struggling Pacers, who have slumped through a streak that saw them lose 10 of their last 15 games. The Pacers pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 101-94. The Pistons had lost three straight (including snapping the Philadelphia 76ers 26 game losing streak) prior to Monday’s victory against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Pacers were fighting to regain their spot atop the Eastern Conference Standings, while the Pistons are five games out of the eight and final playoff spot with eight games remaining in the season.
The Game: The Pistons came out hot, but Indiana quickly recovered to take a one point lead into the second quarter. The entire game was a series of traded punches between the two teams, with the Pacers leading at half and the Pistons leading after the third.
The Pacers were led by the all-around play of Lance Stephenson and Paul George. In addition to the duo’s 38 points, they combined for 18 boards and seven assists. Stephenson was especially spectacular early, igniting the Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a couple of highlight worthy plays, including a one handed dunk and a between the legs pass. George was mostly kept in check until the latter half of the fourth quarter, when he made a couple of key three-pointers.
The Pistons were kept in the game by the three-pronged attack of Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, along with Rodney Stuckey off the bench. Monroe’s contribution wasn’t very efficient, scoring 17 on 20 shots, but he did add 16 boards. Stuckey was the usual sparkplug off the bench, coming in foran offensive boost, adding 16 points. We’ll get to the huge game Smith had later.
The game was a nail biter to the finish, but the Pacers were clutch down the stretch. David West and Paul George made a flurry of shots to put the gold and blue up for good. The Pistons didn’t make enough shots at the end, and the closest Pistons got was down 91-90 with 3:48 left.
The Player: I picked a rare game where Josh Smith shooting threes is a good thing. The 6’10’’ small forward hit 3-4 from beyond the arc, a lot better than his normal 24 percent. Only one of the four shots was contested, otherwise Smith had all day. Hopefully this encourages Smith to take better shots from three, rather than encourage him to shoot more.
While Smith shot under 50 percent from the field, there was hardly a bad shot among the 20 he took. Many of the looks were driving to the basket after he had gotten a step on his defender, and they simply didn’t fall. Smith still had nine baskets.
He is a matchup nightmare on offensive because of his length and athleticism. Giant trees like Roy Hibbert have to sag off J-Smoove for the fear of being beat to the hoop, and Smith took advantage of this to hit a couple of midrange jumpers. When a smaller power forward like Louis Scola or David West matched up with Smith, he was able to use his length to get around them.
One sour note is role Smith plays in the Pistons’ general offense. Detroit often fails to utilize Smith, especially in the three-big lineups featuring Monroe, Andre Drummond, and Smith. When this trio is on the floor, Smith is banished to corner or the wing, going possessions without touching the ball.
On defense, Smith is a noted shot blocker. However, he isn’t great at challenging shots at the rim. He let a couple of Pacers get to the cup without a solid contest. His blocks mostly come off instinct, finding an unsuspecting player and swatting his shot.
In other aspects of defense, Smith is great. He has versatility that allows him to guard power forwards as well as small forwards. His pick and roll defense wasn’t necessarily the most inspired effort, but his wingspan makes up for him not trying his hardest to hedge.
His effort was very apparent in one on one situations, and a testament to this was his time spent guarding Pacers’ star Paul George. Smith was a major reason George ended up 9 for 19 from the field. Smith forced George into contested fall-aways, rarely getting anything towards the basket. George only hit two shots over Smith, both well contested. When the Pistons switched Kyle Singler onto George, the latter got hot and gave the Pacers the permanent lead.
Smith has often been called an enigma, and it’s a fair point to make. If utilized correctly, he is a special talent that just has to be reigned in.
Final Stat Line: 37 minutes, 24 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, 1 block, -11 for the game