In last night's 115-104 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, new, old Rocket Josh Smith once again played a key roll in the Houston victory. His 16 bench points led all Rockets reserves, and his inspired play manifested several Vine-worthy moments (in addition to the one Ethan gave you in the recap).
But it hasn't been so much his scoring that's lifted the Rockets in the two games since his return, it's been his willingness to share the ball that's been the real spark, and his adept passing from the frontcourt is something the Rockets have sorely lacked all season, especially with Donatas Motiejunas mostly sitting on the sideline.
Smith has averaged 4.0 assists as the Rockets have gone 2-0 after the trade, but more than the numbers, it's been his attitude that's really had an effect on his teammates. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff told ESPN's Calvin Watkins after the game:
"He's a guy, again, because of his ability to pass the ball, he's a guy that brings everybody together. He can do that because he can make all the passes, he can make all the plays."
And when guy is such a willing passer, it tends to rub off on everyone. Houston has been a mostly stagnant team on offense this season, averaging just 21.8 assists per game, which is 18th in the NBA. The Rockets had 27 team assists yesterday against the Mavs after also putting up 27 in Smith's first game back Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Bickerstaff praised Smith's passing after Bucks' win as well, saying:
"The thing that's important for us is Josh's ability to pass the ball. It's infectious when he makes the extras passes over and over again, and everybody's a recipient of it."
And James Harden agreed with him:
"He just did the things that don't always show up on the stat sheet, but that are effective and helps teams win."
So it seems that a player with a negative reputation for chucking just might be the playmaking oil that greases the Rockets' engine. Sure, it's only been two games, and Smith had been mostly terrible in L.A. all season, but the Rockets have looked more like the Rockets we used to know over the last two games than at any other point this season.
When close friend Dwight Howard returns, the Rockets' offense should open up even more, but the other rotation members are already seeing the benefits of Smith's presence, with Trevor Ariza, who scored a season-high 29 points in Sunday's win, telling Watkins:
"I think we've just been trying to figure it out. We're looking at what we did last year and trying to figure out how to get back to that. That was no fun. Putting the pieces back to help us get to where we were, and bringing Josh back in helped us out a lot."
Smith is still prone to cold shooting, as he's shot just 7-24 in the last two games, and his averages over the same span of 12 shots in 22 minutes is still high for a guy that's usually a low percentage player from the field.
But that's Josh Smith, and it's his willingness to move the ball that has his teammates and coaches always giving him the green light to heave it, and when Smith has the green light, that's when the Clippers series happens. Or the second half against yesterday against Dallas. Bickerstaff told ESPN:
"His courage to shoot the ball late when he's missed a few, most guys would turn those down, and since we've seen him and he's been with us, he's thrived in those situations."
Smoove is back in H-town. I'm happy to enjoy the ride.