Josh Smith keeps shooting in return
Those fans finally got their redemption on Wednesday night.
Smith went 0-for-9 on shots outside the paint, and the Atlanta fans were quick to cheer at Smith's misery, loudly yelling at his first missed 3-point attempt and imploring the Pistons forward to shoot every time he touched the ball with raucous cries of "Shoot it!"
"It was what I expected," Smith said after the game, "Some cheering, and some boos, but it's all good."
Playing his first game in Atlanta as an opponent, Smith scored 11 points on 15 shots for the game, a 93-85 Hawks victory. He also added six rebounds, three steals, two assists and two blocks with his normal stat-stuffing nature.
"I was good," Smith said, reflecting on his game. "Took shots that I normally take. They just weren't able to drop tonight."
Smith did receive a loud applause during his pregame introduction, but that seemed to signal the end of the love-hate relationship between the player and his former fans.
An Atlanta native, Smith spent the first nine seasons of his NBA career in a Hawks uniform. After winning the 2005 Dunk Contest in his rookie year, Smith started to garner more attention for his freakish athleticism and potential that he possessed. After several seasons of improving, Smith's high-flying reputation with fans started to sour, as he continually seemed to be playing outside of his abilities on offense. Jumper after jumper, Smith shot his way into the dismay of critics around the league.
"He rarely missed a game unless he was injured," said Bob Rathbun, the Hawks' TV play-by-play man. "[He] started for basically nine years, and filled the stat sheet like no other forward in the history of the franchise, Bob Pettit and Dominique Wilkins included."
Of course, Rathbun's praise came with a caveat. "He always left the impression with the media and fans that there was more to give."
That "more to give" never materialized. Smith never made an All-Star team during his time with the Hawks, even though you could argue that he belonged on multiple occasions. That being said, it definitely wasn't arguable that Smith was deserving in his last year in Atlanta, which was the first definitive marking of the end of J-Smoove's time with the Hawks.
"The only time I saw the Hawks during free agency," Smith said on Atlanta's 92.9 FM radio station on Monday, "was when they came to one of my workouts just to say hello. I think they were meeting with Dwight Howard that day. They never came in or sat down with me during the free agency period to offer me anything."
"We both decided," Hawks general manger Danny Ferry said, "it was best to move in different directions."
Of course, that doesn't mean Smith's connections with the ATL have come to an end. Al Horford had plenty of praise for his friend and former teammate before they matched up against each other for the first time in an NBA game.
"Josh was here for the first six years of my career," the Hawks center said after recording 10 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in the Atlanta victory. "He helped me to be the player that I am today."
"I watch almost all of them," Smith said when asked if he had been keeping track of the Hawks. "[Horford and Lou Williams] are still good friends of mine, they're still my brothers, and other than playing us, I wish the best for them."
Williams had six points and five assists on the night in just his second game since recovering from an ACL injury in January.
As an organization, the Hawks are doing just fine without Smith. Now standing at 7-5 on the season, the Hawks were seventh in offensive rating heading into the game, their highest mark since 2010. Smith's replacement, Paul Millsap, had a solid outing, scoring 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting.
"I was just attacking the rim, getting to the basket," Millsap commented after the game, inviting many Hawks fans to again speculate on a topic they've been debating for years: what if Josh Smith had focused more on attacking the rim and getting to the basket?
There's some lingering fondness for Smith as a hometown kid who often brought excitement to the court in Atlanta, but as the crowd demonstrated on Wednesday, his enduring legacy among Hawks die-hards will be as a guy who never knew when to stop shooting.
Given a chance to be on the other side on Wednesday, those fans took the opportunity to unleash their pent-up frustration with Smith's shot selection with gleeful ridicule. Those same attempts that generated a decade of groans helped their Hawks win a basketball game.