Welcome to the NBA, Ish Smith.
Well, technically, he’s been in the league for a while, but fourth-year point guard is emerging as a reliable backup for the Phoenix Suns, his seventh NBA team, in the absence of Eric Bledsoe.
Smith had perhaps his best night as a pro Friday against San Antonio, scoring a career-high 15 points and helping the Suns to a convincing 106-85 victory. He also tied a career-high with seven rebounds in the win, and he stuffed the stat sheet in other ways, including four assists, two blocks and two steals.
The Wake Forest product was part of a bench unit that combined for 60 points and gave the starters some rest against the Spurs.
“I heard so much about their bench — Patty (Mills), Manu (Ginobili), their whole bench, that’s just to name a few,” Smith said after the game. “All of us coming off the bench, we just felt like we needed to come out there aggressive, and I thought we did that as a team and kind of changed the pace.”
The point guard would be correct in that the Suns’ bench changed the momentum of the game, particularly in the second quarter. Smith scored 10 points in the period and reserves Marcus and Markieff Morris combined for 13 as the Suns turned a 23-19 first-quarter deficit into a 47-35 lead going into the half.
Smith’s 10 points had already tied his season-high, and he made all five of his shots before the break. He was having a perfect night from the field until he attempted a 3-pointer with 4:20 left in the fourth.
“Yeah, Coach (Jeff Hornacek) told me not to shoot any more threes,” Smith laughed. “He said, ‘Stay in the mid-range.’ So I’m going to try to do that from now on.”
Smith was echoing the theory that long distance isn’t his game. He has only made 15 shots from downtown (in 66 tries) in 163 games as a pro.
Instead, the fourth-year guard excels at driving to the hoop, especially in transition. And Smith and the Suns were on the break often Friday as San Antonio turned the ball over 18 times.
“I’m like Ricky Bobby, I want to go fast,” Smith said, drawing the laughs of reporters. “But the biggest thing with us is we want to play that pace. We want to constantly push the basketball; that’s what makes us really good.
“Obviously, we have to get better at executing in the half court. But when we get stops and run, we’re pretty good.”
Suns leading scorer Goran Dragic was quick to commend Smith for his effort against San Antonio. Dragic only played 29 minutes Friday — his first game under 30 minutes in the last seven contests — as Phoenix built a large lead and the bench took over.
“We all know that he can play. And we saw moves that he did on the floor that were spectacular, unbelievable. And he gave us that lift.” Dragic said. “And he’s the guy that deserves that — that we won because of him.
“The bench players who came on the floor did a great job. I think because of that we won the game.”