By Sekou Smith, NBA.com
Posted Apr 20 2010 11:47PM
ATLANTA -- Marvin Williams spoiled the storybook finish to Josh Smith's big day.
He botched the layup that would have sewn up Smith's triple-double and capped a brilliant day for the Atlanta Hawks' mercurial power forward.
Smith finished as the runner-up to his pre-school classmate and longtime friend Dwight Howard in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year.
By nightfall he had the Milwaukee Bucks running for cover as he assaulted the rim, and the Bucks' defense, in Game 2 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round playoff series at Philips Arena.
Had Williams finished that layup with 2:42 to play, Smith could have exited the floor with the Hawks' first playoff triple-double since Mookie Blaylock pulled it off in 1997.
Instead, Smith had to settle for being an assist short of history and a commanding 2-0 series lead after the Hawks polished off the Bucks 96-86 before a sellout crowd of 18,938.
"All Marvin had to do was make that layup," Smith joked to the reporters crowding him at his locker.
All jokes aside, if Smith continues to perform the way he has so far in this series, he'll have plenty of chances to chase triple-doubles.
As splendid as All-Stars Joe Johnson (27 points, six assists and four rebounds) and Al Horford (20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks) were on both ends of the floor on this night, Smith was the undeniable force that made the Hawks go.
"There's nothing he can't do on the floor," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.
Smith's 21 points (on 9-for-11 shooting), 14 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks don't tell the whole story. He was the Hawks' catalyst, as he is often, triggering their offense on one end and altering shots and wreaking havoc in the passing lanes on the other.
"There's nothing you can do," Williams said. "He's top three in the league in terms of pure athletes in the league. The plays he makes for our team, whether it's a block or a pass or whatever, sometimes it just doesn't make sense. He's a freak of nature and truly a jack of all trades. It's hard to explain."
Even harder to explain is the complete transformation Smith has undergone in the past few years.
Cursed (or blessed, depending on your perspective) for years with an appetite to do more than others wanted him to on offense, Smith curbed his enthusiasm for shooting from distance. Passes that used to seem far too aggressive for a player his size suddenly find the target with a marksman's accuracy.
"I just want to win," he said. "I'm not really trying to show anybody where I'm at as a player and an individual, because I know I've done some successful things this season. As long as my teammates appreciate it, that's what really counts. I've been a team player since I've been here and it's really finally paying off."
His Game 2 effort was a perfect display of all that Smith brings to the party. He made his first six shots, abused every Bucks defender that attempted to contain him while making sure to take care of his responsibilities on defense.
"I just have to give credit to my teammates for sticking with me," Smith said. "They know whenever they pass the ball in the post and I get double-teamed I'm going to make the right play. I was able to get it going early and sustain it throughout the game. My teammates were just finding me and I was being unselfish with the rock."
The key for the Hawks is harnessing Smith's skills and ability, in this series and beyond, because when he's at his best there are few physical specimens in basketball capable of matching him. Hawks veteran Joe Smith said he's debated with his teammates all season as to who is the better physical specimen between Smith and reigning league MVP LeBron James.
"Josh is one of the best I've been around besides LeBron, obviously" the elder Smith said. "They're both incredible. Now that I've had a chance to see him for a full season it's really opened my eyes to what it is that he brings to the floor. There are only a few guys that can dominate a game without taking 20 shots. What you don't see on the stat sheet is the offensive rebounds, the ability to give your team extra possessions by battling for rebounds and chasing down loose balls and really making things go. The scary part is he's just 24. He's still scratching the surface of what he can do. I look forward to seeing what else he'll be able to do."
Smith is averaging 16.5 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3 blocks in this series.
The Bucks have surely seen enough already.
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