Josh Smith had a rough game yesterday… if you prefer to look at it that way. Twitter (reporters and fans alike) had a field day with Josh after last night’s game, saying he played shoddy defense on Carmelo and lost the game late by making too many mistakes.
I found myself defending Josh there, and have had to do so increasingly more often this year. Be reminded, that I thought trading Josh for Antawn Jamison’s expiring contract, plus Cleveland’s pick, would have been a good idea for the Hawks (cap space, lottery pick), so the fact that the tide has turned on him this much seems like overkill to me.
However, Josh took a lot of the blame for Carmelo sinking a Knicks’ record nine threes last night. So, let’s look at each of Carmelo’s makes from behind the arc and see how he got so open.
1st quarter, 0:45 remaining: Josh cheats off a bit, and Prigioni is able to get off a good pass to Melo. Josh is able to give a good contest, but Anthony hits the shot.
2nd quarter, 2:50 remaining: Knicks run a Felton-Stoudemire pick-and-roll. Atlanta’s defense collapses on the PnR, forcing Josh to switch onto Amar’e to avoid giving up an uncontested dunk. Josh successfully contests the shot, but the Knicks rebound and get the ball to Melo, who is open because Horford did not rotate properly after coming off of Amar’e. (seriously, he just stood out by the elbow and watched this play unfold after he switched off of STAT.)
2nd quarter, 2:17 remaining: Knicks run another Felton-STAT PnR. Josh is forced to help onto Felton; no one switches onto Carmelo. Buckets.
2nd quarter, 1:55 remaining: Carmelo pulls up from 32 feet. WELP!
3rd quarter, 10:43 remaining: Josh’s first huge mistake, in my opinion; he overhelps on a Felton-Chandler PnR, leaving Anthony wide-open.
3rd quarter, 7:51 remaining: This time, Josh is forced to help off of the Felton-Chandler PnR. No one rotates in his place. (sensing a theme yet?)
3rd quarter, 6:51 remaining: This one was no fault of the Hawks. New York runs a Melo-Chandler PnR, with Tyson setting a blatantly obvious illegal screen by moving about 10 feet to keep Smoove from contesting Carmelo’s shot. I’m really not sure how this wasn’t called; KG would be proud.
3rd quarter, 4:22 remaining: Knicks get away with another offensive foul here. The play starts with DeShawn on Carmelo and Josh on Amar’e. Melo then comes over and holds onto Josh, allowing Stoudemire to get free on the other side of the court. DeShawn and Zaza both go over to try to cover Amar’e. Josh has now been hung out to dry, and is forced to choose between guarding Tyson or Carmelo. He goes guarding Chandler in the paint, leaving Carmelo wide open.
3rd quarter, 0:21 remaining: Again, Josh is forced to switch on a PnR, but he calls on Ivan or Pargo to switch onto Melo. Ivan doesn’t because he’s on Novak, while Pargo is just sitting in no man’s land, guarding Manti Te’o's girlfriend. Result? BUCKETS.
So, the Knicks executed perfectly. With Josh guarding Carmelo, they ran pick-and-rolls on Teague and Pargo, who simply struggle in guarding those plays. Josh was continually forced to help, and the other Hawks failed to rotate in his place. You can blame the guys who didn’t rotate correctly on some of these plays (like the Horford one), but most of this could have easily been prevented by Atlanta’s guards.
Now, on what happened late in the game: Josh was called for an over-and-back violation, an illegal screen, and then a foul after Melo was able to get by him, resulting in an and-one. He also missed the potential game-winning three. Let’s look at those in a little more detail.
The over-and-back violation is clearly Josh’s fault. I can see why he thought he needed to bring the ball up the court, but you can’t stop at halfcourt, straddling the line. Easy call, which was the correct one by the officials.
This may seem like a new concept to some of you (it shouldn’t), but the screener isn’t always at fault on an illegal screen. The foul call here (also the correct call) was a result of Jeff Teague starting to drive before Josh was in a set position. As a ball-handler, you just can’t do that. Now, this still may have been a bit of Smoove’s fault, as this appeared to be a timing pick-and-roll that Josh was a little late on, but that doesn’t mean the ball handler should start his move before the screener gets into position.
On Carmelo’s game-winner, yes, Josh got beat on a great move. However, he didn’t commit a foul here, as most people recognized. The extra point that the Knicks got out of the play likely effected the play-calling from Larry Drew, because I think he goes with the Smith-Horford high-low if the Hawks are only down by one.
Of course, Smoove took the most heat for taking that three at the end of the game. However, it seems like Josh getting the ball in that spot is exactly what Larry Drew wanted… about two seconds before it actually happened. I think LD planned for Josh to get the ball there, and then pass to a wide-open DeShawn Stevenson. However, because the play was disrupted a bit by the Knicks, Josh got the ball with only three seconds left. I’m speculating here, but it appears that the play involved getting a shot with enough time left to get a rebound, and thus, possibly another shot attempt. Because of Jeff losing control of the ball, I think Josh felt compelled to shoot in order for this to happen. He missed and Al got the rebound, but there simply wasn’t enough time at that point.
So, that ends my rant for the day. A lot of people blamed Josh for yesterday’s loss, and I vehemently disagree. Should Josh share some of the blame? Of course; it’s a team game. You win as a team, and you lose as a team. Josh made some negative plays, and some positive ones. So did everyone else on the team. In the end, there were more negatives than positives. =/