Nolan Smith Shines In Redeeming Performance Against Utah
By sarahhecht Posted in: Jazz, NolanSmith
Tonight was a rebound-game for the Trail Blazers, who after a tough loss in Utah last night, returned home to defeat the same Jazz, 105-99, in the Rose Garden. Damian Lillard led the team in scoring with 23-points, LaMarcus Aldridge and JJ Hickson earned double-doubles and Nicolas Batum was only one assist shy of a triple-double. But none of the starters and their solid stat lines were the focus of this win.
Instead, this one is all about one of the best story lines sports can offer, redemption.
It was six games ago when Nolan Smith, who alongside veteran Ronnie Price has flirted with the back-up point guard role, hit a major on-court speed bump. In under three minutes of playing time against the Milwaukee Bucks, the second-year guard led the unit who gave up a 17-0 run that would crush the Trail Blazers to defeat.
Since that debacle he hadn’t played a single minute, until tonight.
With Wesley Matthews and Ronnie Price both sidelined with ankle issues, Nolan was called back to action. It’s moments like the one he faced as he checked in during the first quarter, that can define a player. Tonight, Smith used his moment to shine.
After an early turnover—his only one of the game—Smith went on to score 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor in just over 18 minutes of play—including two huge three-pointers at key ticks down the stretch. He also added two assists,a steal and an offensive rebound to the box score during his cathartic performance.
Following the game, Price was overflowing with accolades for Smith, himself having the unique knowledge of what it’s like to fill the back-up point guard role.
“For a back-up point guard, there’s no other position in the league like that, especially playing behind a guy who plays so many minutes,” Price said. “It’s not like being a center, or a forward, or a wing, or anyone else, you check into the game from a back-up standpoint in those positions and you run up and down the floor and you might not touch the ball, but you still get settled into the game. At back-up point guard you sit on the bench for a long time and you get thrown in the game and next thing you know the ball is in your hand immediately and you have to match the tempo right off the bat, so plays can happen like that (Smith’s first turnover in the game.)
“Every point guard’s been a position like that, you know, every one’s had a bad two or three minute stretch, it’s just that when you’re a back-up point guard you don’t get to play another 30 minutes to level that bad stretch out with a great stretch,” he continued. “And then if you only play a few minutes and you have a bad stretch, you get taken out of the game and it looks horrible. You say, ‘Oh, he played three minutes and did this, that and that.’ Well, yeah, you can look at every All-Star point guard and take a bad three minute stretch and yank them out the game, it’d be the same thing. We all told him, ‘You just can’t put the pressure on yourself for trying to play a perfect game, just play basketball.’”
Taking the words of his support from his teammates proved fruitful for Smith on this outing and helped him bounce-back from a tough stretch and redeem himself.
“I was obviously disappointed about the last time I was out there on the court,” he said of the game against Milwaukee. “And I put more hours into the gym with Coach Osbourne and working on my shot and doing everything to be better next time I took the court and be ready for an opportunity.
“It feels good, it definitely feels good,” he said of his outing tonight. “I think coach felt good about it as well. He gave me a smile at the end of the game and to give coach confidence and also to give myself some confidence as well, now I’m just excited to get back on the court next game and continue to get better.”