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."