Smith has 'monster game' for Hawks

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Smith has 'monster game' for Hawks

ATLANTA Before Sunday's game, Paul Pierce spoke in glowing terms about Atlanta's Josh Smith.

"He is a lot of work," Pierce said at the time. "He's an All-Star in my mind. He's playing as good as anybody in the NBA at this point."

Little did Pierce know how true his words would be, as Smith put the Hawks on his back for long stretches as they ultimately soared past the Boston Celtics for an 83-74 win.

Atlanta's victory was indeed a team-wide win, but the play of Smith stood head and shoulders above the rest.

He led all players with 22 points and 18 rebounds.

"He (Smith) was an animal," said Atlanta head coach Larry Drew. "Josh is a guy that, when he's playing with that energy, when he's playing with that type of rhythm, he just makes us so much better."

Smith came into this series, much like he did this season, with something to prove.

Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and a host of other NBA players have often said that Smith is indeed an all-star caliber player.

Anytime he hears players praise him, it feels good.

But Smith admits it means even more hearing players like Pierce and Garnett give him props for his play.

"Those guys are Hall of Fame players," Smith told CSNNE.com. "To hear that come out of their mouths, it really gives me motivation and drive to become an All-Star one day."

For Smith, the biggest challenge for him has been becoming more consistent with his play.

Although he averaged just under 19 points per game this season, far too often Smith took bad shots or made bad decisions with the ball.

But as he has grown more and more into a leader, Atlanta head coach Larry Drew has become more comfortable with giving him some leeway.

"Every now and then, he'll take a crazy shot," Drew said. "Which I'm willing to live with for all the things he does do well. Defensively, he takes the challenge in the post, he's a shot-blocker. He just played a monster game. We really fed off his energy at the beginning of the game."

Bradley locked in during return to Celtics lineup vs. Hornets

Bradley locked in during return to Celtics lineup vs. Hornets

BOSTON – When you look at Avery Bradley’s growth this season, seeing the tremendous strides he has made offensively is clear.

But at the heart of Bradley’s game remains a desire to dominate a matchup as a defender, something that was alive and well on Monday as he made his return to the floor after missing the four previous games with an Achilles strain.

Bradley’s defense would prove instrumental in Boston’s 108-98 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday.

He was 2-for-9 from the field and played nearly 33 minutes against Hornets which is just a couple minutes under his season average of court time.

Usually he’s responsible for providing a boost at both ends of the floor.

But considering his long lay-off, it was clear early on that he was locked in defensively more so than looking to get back on track shooting the ball.

“You take any type of games off in this league, your rhythm and all that you gotta get it back,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder.

Even though his shots weren’t falling, Bradley was on top of his game defensively while guarding 6-foot-8 Nicolas Batum who is six inches taller but never was a factor on Monday.

Batum finished with eight points on 2-for-11 shooting from the field.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens liked what he got out of Bradley in his return to action.

“I thought he (Bradley) was great,” Stevens told CSNNE.com. “He did everything we needed him to do. We knew there would be a little bit of rust (shooting the ball), but that’s part of you playing your way back into it.”

As far as Bradley’s stifling defense on Batum, Stevens said, “You have to do that against Batum. I thought Avery did a really good job of that. It’s a hard matchup no matter what way you go. Batum, giving up inches to him. He (Bradley) was there on the catch all night.”

And as Bradley gradually gets back into a flow, he’ll regain the form offensively that made him one of the NBA’s better two-way players this season.