Josh Smith’s Possible Return in Game 4 Could Help Hawks Reestablish Advantage Up Front

Josh Smith's Possible Return in Game 4 Could Help Hawks Reestablish Advantage Up FrontIf the first-round playoff series between the Celtics and Hawks goes at least three more games, and Erick Dampier plays the same amount of minutes in each of those games as he played in Game 3, he would eclipse his total number of minutes played in the entire regular season.

Let that sink in when considering how big of an impact Josh Smith's absence affected Atlanta on Friday. With Smith sidelined with a sprained left knee, the Hawks called upon Dampier — a 17-year veteran who played 83 minutes in 2011-12 — to give them 22 grueling minutes in the third game of the series against Boston.

Dampier played effectively considering the circumstances, delivering six points and six rebounds off the bench, but his lack of mobility contributed to Atlanta coach Larry Drew using small lineups for much of the game. Tracy McGrady, a seven-time All-Star as a wing player, spent a large portion of his 41 minutes essentially as Atlanta's power forward, even after turning his ankle in the second quarter.

Smith plans to play in Game 4, although the final decision will depend on how the team's athletic trainers and coaches evaluate his condition. Still, the idea that Smith feels he is capable of playing should be music to the Hawks' ears.

Jason Collins and Dampier gave Atlanta all they could in the first three games of the series, but it is uncertain how long either big man can keep that up. One of the Hawks' anticipated advantages in the series was their size up front, but injuries to Smith and Zaza Pachulia — added to the ailing Al Horford — wiped out that advantage for the most part.

After the Celtics and Hawks got about equal scoring production from their frontcourts in Game 1, when Boston's starting front line outscored Atlanta's 40-37, the C's front three dominated the next two games. The Celtics' frontcourt starters outscored the Hawks' 108-76 in Games 2 and 3, even with Boston power forward Brandon Bass pitching in only eight points in each of the three games in the series.

Dampier has put together a long career on muscle and determination, but at this stage, 22 minutes of playing time in a playoff atmosphere is more than he can be reasonably expected to sustain. If Smith can play, it would make a sizable impact for the Hawks, not only among the starters but down the line.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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