Looking back at Josh Smith’s playoff brilliance vs. Clippers


May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) reacts after making a basket during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers in game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As we’ve seen before in Doc Rivers’ history, he’s always willing to sign players who have defeated him in the past. This offseason, that trend was no different. The Los Angeles Clippers signed forward Josh Smith, who was an instrumental part of the Houston Rockets team that eliminated L.A.’s 3-1 series lead in the second round of last season’s playoffs.

It was by no means a one man effort, as the Rockets joined together with a nothing-to-lose attitude to take advantage of a depleted Clippers squad. Not just depleted in terms of their lacking depth, but depleted because of their lack of mental composure. And as the Rockets caught them on their heels, Smith was a key part of their second unit that rallied over the last few games of the series.

Despite Smith’s elevated performance in Houston, after he escaped his dismal situation with the Detroit Pistons, the extraordinary way he stepped up against the Clippers was still a major surprise.

During the regular season with the Rockets, Smith averaged 16.9 points on 43.8 percent shooting, 8.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes. In comparison to the start of his 2014-15 season in Detroit, his numbers were nearly better across the board. And in terms of efficiency, his three point percentage reached 33 percent (the second best mark of his career and 8.7 percent higher than with Detroit). Which, considering the reputation he gained with the Pistons as a trigger-happy player who jacked up threes far too much, was a very helpful improvement.

Against the Clippers in the Western Conference semi finals, he put every improvement into practice. And more than any other night of the series, he did so in game six with 19 crucial points and a stellar fourth quarter.

As the following shot chart from the entire series shows, Smith’s performance against the Clippers from three point range was significantly better than his shooting from any other part of the floor. His efficiency from the corner was poor, but from the top of the arc, Smith buried several big shots to help take down the Clippers.

He’s normally more efficient inside, as he made 66.9 percent of his shots within three feet during the regular season, although that wasn’t the case against the Clippers, after he made a terrible 27.2 percent of his field goal attempts over the first four games.

How he turned around his performance as his Rockets came back is the real way Smith displayed his burst of playoff brilliance, though.

Josh Smith shot chart vs. Clippers in 2014-15 Western Conference semi finals (Photo via NBA.com)

As the shot chart above demonstrates, Smith found most of his success from the top of the arc, where he made all 8 of his three pointers throughout the series. His finishing in the paint was far from effective to begin with, but his sudden turnaround performance in game six with 4 threes (double what he’d made in the series till that point) ended his cold spell.

After being relatively absent over the first four games, Smith quickly bounced back over the final three games that the Rockets won to take the series. From game five onwards, he shot 57.6 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three point range. As a result, he totalled 43 points and became a vital reason as to why the Rockets were able to save their season.

So, when you look into how he played during the final three games of the series, it’s not surprising that Doc wanted to bring him onboard.

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Smith is coming to join the Clippers as Blake Griffin’s new backup, and due to his versatility as a highly athletic, 6’9″, 225 lbs player, he’ll spend most of his minutes between small and power forward, whilst adding the occasional spell of playing time at center as well.

From his explosiveness to his playmaking ability, Josh Smith has far more to offer the Clippers in 16-20 minutes per game than their previous backup power forward Glen Davis. Although, that almost goes without saying.

We know that he wants to help a team win, and that money and personal recognition is no longer what he’s seeking after he signed in L.A. for the minimum of $1.5 million. So if he continues the improvement he enjoyed with the Rockets and gels with his new teammates soon enough, there’s no reason why we can’t expect more performances like this from Smith in the upcoming season.

Thankfully, it will be in a Clippers jersey this time.

Next: Ranking the Pacific Division: Where do the Clippers land?