I don’t pretend to be much of an Xs and Os guy when it comes to the NBA, but I figured I’d weigh in today on Josh Smith’s buzzer-beating putback in the Magic-Hawks game last night because it’s a result you so rarely see at the end of NBA games. Typically, such a scenario results in a contested or fading 18- to 20-foot jumpshot (which is what this was looking like) that seals or blows the game.
Here, though, Smith made a high-basketball-I.Q. play to clinch the victory (and, consequently, a playoff berth) for his team. Let’s break it down below.
In the screenshot above, notice Josh Smith at the right wing with his arms up looking for the pass. In the red circle is Dwight Howard, who is assigned to guard Smith on the play. Howard is totally out of place defensively, but nothing short of an on-the-spot stroke would compel Joe Johnson (on the left wing, guarded by Vince Carter) to dish the ball to Smith for a three-point jumper. Additionally, Howard knows where his man is, but as the defensive star he is, knows it’s better for him to be in the paint to contest any drives to the lane. He points out Smith to let his teammates know where Smith is and that he’s not covering him.
As expected, Johnson drives and beats Carter to the baseline, where he pulls up for a 15-foot side fade. Notice Dwight Howard’s shift toward Johnson’s position, as he had anticipated that Johnson might foolishly attempt to go to the rim. As a result of Howard’s position, notice that Smith is still wide open between the right wing and corner.
The shot goes up, and four of five Magic players collapse on the rim looking for the rebound. Unfortunately, expecting that there won’t be time on the clock left for another attempt, they give a halfhearted effort to box out. Rashard Lewis, who is shown standing on the right block, does not realize Josh Smith has begun to crash the boards behind him and does not get his body on him.
As a result, Smith gets right to the rim for the put-back slam. At that point, Smith is too athletics and has too much momentum for even Dwight Howard to stop, given Lewis’s lack of court awareness on the play. As if the validity of the basket (with respect to time) were ever in doubt, you can see here that the ball is through the hoop before time expires.
While this loss isn’t too crucial as far as Orlando’s regular-season fate and playoff seeding are concerned, it is this type of play that can cost you in April, May, and June (the NBA playoffs are just ridiculously long). Stan Van Gundy won’t stand for mental errors of this sort. Physical errors like Courtney Lee’s blown layup in Game 2 of the finals last year hurt, but they happen no matter what. You need to eliminate mental errors to come away with a championship.