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Josh Smith Shuts Up Critics with Heroic Game 6 Performance

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2015

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Josh Smith just saved the Houston Rockets' season.

Read that again, and then again. And then read it once more still.

Josh Smith just saved the Houston Rockets' season.

Facing their second win-or-go-home contest of the second round, the Rockets staved off elimination in Game 6 with a gutsy 119-107 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers. And at the center of it all was Smith, forever a source of unending criticism.

There is nothing to criticize now.

The Rockets did not play like a team on the ropes for the entirety of Game 6. After trailing by as many as nine points in the first quarter, they spent much of the first half jockeying for the lead with the Clippers. They even looked like they might pull away in the second quarter.

James Harden pumped in 17 points during the second segment, and the Rockets flirted with extending a seven-point lead. They inevitably headed into the locker room trailing by two.

At that point, Smith had five points on 1-of-2 shooting from the floor.

The Clippers used a 28-point third quarter to make a potentially irreversible run of their own. Harden went cold for the Rockets, hitting just one of his seven shot attempts, while Chris Paul exploded as he does, dropping 12 points and four assists.

Smith's game wasn't pretty the entire time, but it was just what the Rockets needed.
Smith's game wasn't pretty the entire time, but it was just what the Rockets needed.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Although the Rockets regained some of their composure to end the third, cutting into the Clippers' 19-point lead, they still entered the fourth quarter trailing by 13, their season hanging in the balance, seemingly speeding toward its conclusion.

By this point, Smith remained stuck on five points.

But then the fourth quarter actually happened.

A 13-point deficit was cut to single digits. The Rockets were within five. They tied the game. They captured the lead.

Suddenly, they were the ones up by double digits—as many as 15 points—streaking toward a victory and forcing a winner-take-all Game 7. And none of it would have been possible without Smith.

He was a plus-21 in the fourth quarter alone and nearly outscored the Clippers on his own. He tallied 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including a 3-of-4 effort from downtown in the final frame.

This from a guy with a lifetime 28.5 percent conversation rate from three-point land. This from a guy who hadn't yet scored 10 points in a game this series. 

This from a guy who the Detroit Pistons waived in December.

No one saw a performance like this coming, least of all the Clippers, as CBS Sports' Matt Moore and Fox Sports' D.J. Foster noted:

D.J. Foster @fosterdj3

Josh Smith 3s? The league's best offense can't score? Harden on the bench the whole time? None of it makes a damn bit of sense.

It's not just that Smith is a human enigma; it's that he received almost no help from Houston's two best players, Dwight Howard and Harden.

ESPN Stats & Information summed up their fourth-quarter contributions nicely:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Rockets outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the 4th quarter James Harden & Dwight Howard did not make a field goal in 4th quarter(!)

Harden didn't log a single second of action. Trevor Ariza shot just 1-of-3 from the floor. Only four Rockets players made a field goal through that 12-minute stretch.

With the help of Corey Brewer (15 points), Smith carried Houston in the fourth quarter. He came up with a big steal and blocked a pivotal shot. He attacked the rim and hit step-back threes. He did everything. And he did it on a national stage, in the playoffs, with Houston's season on the line.

Viewed against his checkered on-court past—one that has been defined by poor shot selection and provocative, yet wildly inefficient stat lines—this was Smith's ultimate form of redemption. As CSN Chicago's Vincent Goodwill put it:

Vincent Goodwill @vgoodwill

"Take that, Stan Van Gundy”- Josh Smith

"Resilience," Smith told ESPN's J.A. Adande immediately afterward when asked how he and the Rockets pulled off the comeback. "We got a no quit mentality."

That mentality will have to carry over into Game 7 on Sunday. It's in Houston, so the Rockets will have home-court advantage. But history is still on Los Angeles' side.

Smith may have done more than just saved the Rockets' season. He may have turned the series.
Smith may have done more than just saved the Rockets' season. He may have turned the series.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Teams that get out to 3-1 leads in best-of-seven second-round series advance more than 94 percent of the time, according to WhoWins.com. The Rockets are still fighting to be an exception and negate the numbers—kind of like Smith did Thursday night.

His below-average regular-season player efficiency rating didn't matter in Game 6. It didn't matter that Atlanta Hawks fans couldn't wait to get rid of him in 2013, or that the Pistons paid him more than $25 million to go away.

Game 6 was Smith's game. And it makes you believe, or at the very least acknowledge, that Game 7, against all odds, could belong to the Rockets, too.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale. 

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