MIAMI – The civilized basketball world wanted contrition out of Josh Smith. He heard it everywhere. Say you’re sorry, Josh. Respect the game, knucklehead. Everyone wanted to hear him say he had learned his lesson, that he would never, ever disrespect the sanctity of these NBA playoffs by leaping into the air, passing the ball between his legs midflight and blowing a windmill jam.
Yes, the Atlanta Hawks young star has learned the hard way. He was the source of ridicule and rancor. Never again, he vowed. Smith swears he won’t repeat such a humiliating mistake.
Never again – right, Josh?
“That’s a play I can make,” Smith told Yahoo! Sports late Friday. “In the future, if I have a chance to do it, I’ll try it again.”
See, there you go. These players are young. They make mistakes. He’s 23 years old. He didn’t get to play for one of those fabulous college life-skill teachers. We’re too fast to judge and condemn. So, he blew an And1 dunk on a breakaway and regrets it horribly.
Wait … wait a minute.
“I’ll try it again,” he said.
So, how about in Game 7 Sunday in Atlanta?
“You know, maybe I will,” Smith said.
Smith responded to the flogging from the tsk-tsk-tskers, delivering a monstrous performance in Game 6 on Friday night. The bigger the game, the bigger Josh Smith comes. The Hawks needed him desperately with center Al Horford out and forward Marvin Williams limited to four gimpy minutes. Here was Smith, rising to the moment. He missed 10 of 13 shots on his way to seven points. He got mad in the third quarter, and started barking at an official and earned a technical foul, too. The Hawks lost a tough one, 98-72, in Game 6, but no one could blame Josh Smith.
In a lot of ways, this was Smith’s night on the shores of Biscayne Bay. Every time he touched the ball, they booed him. The Heat turned that dunk on Wednesday in Atlanta into a clarion call for toughness and character and a return to that old Riles resolve. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra used Smith as a motivational prop, just the way his boss would’ve done.
“They got a lot of mileage out of it,” Smith said. “I guess they got all that motivation.”
The apology to Spoelstra was his idea. Before the tip, the Hawks young star approached Spoelstra and told him that one of the greatest missed dunks in playoff history hadn’t been hatched to humiliate the Heat in a Game 5 defeat. Truth be told, Smith is far too self-involved to think about embarrassing the other team, anyway.
“I just wanted to let him know that’s not what kind of player I am,” Smith said.
Truth be told, that’s exactly the kind of player that Josh Smith is, and that’s all right, because a lot of people need the Josh Smiths to validate how seriously and reverentially they treat the game of basketball. Smith is 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, a forward who has the gifts to be an NBA superstar. Talent has never been his issue – just maturity, just growth.
Now, the Hawks return to Atlanta for Game 7, and they will play one of their most important games in a long, long time. Sure, they took the Celtics to a seventh game a year ago, but they couldn’t win in Boston. And they knew it. This time, they’re home. They’re the favorites. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers await in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
All this talk over a goofball dunk, and Smith sounds unsure why he apologized to the Heat coach. Here’s what he’s sorry for: That he missed the damn dunk.
“I don’t think it was that serious,” Smith said. “I think Jalen Rose really put it together when he said that all I had to do was make the dunk. It was a dunk that I’ve made. There’s a lot of antics throughout the whole game, throughout any game.
“I’m one of those players who can make that dunk, and I just missed it.”
Biggest game in a decade for the Hawks on Sunday, and Dwyane Wade, an NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist, is so, so serious about these things. Basketball is a good time, and Jalen Rose sees the genius. Just understand that Josh Smith won’t make the same mistake again.
Yes, he can make that dunk.
“I’ll try it again,” he vowed.
Even in Game 7?