It’s never just one player, one thing, one decision that makes up the reason as to why one team beats another. The Houston Rockets climbed out of a 3-1 hole in their playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers to win three times in a row. That’s a fact. As for the post-event analysis? Maybe it was all about believing again in Josh Smith.
Kevin McHale is a lot of things. But a great basketball coach? Probably not. Not that we presume to know what exactly makes a great coach. But the Rockets don’t play the kind of basketball that seems to flow through some superior X’s & O’s knowledge from their man on the sidelines. McHale seemed to almost lose his team and the series a number of times. But then Josh Smith happened.
A midseason pickup after he was released from the Detroit Pistons, Smith did well with the Rockets. His numbers might not fully suggest it, but he played good defense in 25.5 minutes a night, shot a lot better than he did with the Pistons and seemed more in control and responsible, looking like he’s actually having fun after more than a year of depression in Michigan.
Smith didn’t have an exceptional series against the Clippers. He had exceptional moments, especially coming in the third quarter of game 6, with his team down 19 points. He didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. One 3-pointer, then a block or stop on defense, followed by another big shot. For someone who has been criticized all his career for being terrible at shot selection, Smith took only open shots in games 6 and 7, making 66.7% of his 3-point attempts. He has a higher 3-point shooting percentage in this postseason than Kyle Korver, as in the best shooter on the planet Kyle Korver.
He defended well, he moved the ball, he provided a mismatch against the stunned Clippers. When the dust settled from two wild games, Smith’s +/- minutes were fantastic, pointing to part of the answer as to how the Rockets survived. For a player that everyone has been saying for so long that attitude is what makes the difference between his good and bad side, these last couple of games certainly proved everyone right.
Terrence Jones isn’t a bad player, but sometimes a playoff run proves to be too much for someone. Maybe it’s mentality, age, inexperience or simply being badly matched up against a certain team. Maybe against the Warriors who love to clog the pain having Jones on the floor will help the Rockets. But for now? Smith has earned his place, minutes and credit, as every good game from him adds a few more dollars to his next contract.