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This isn’t the way Josh Smith wanted to go out

When the cameras were on and media members stood two-deep around his locker, Josh Smith said what he was expected to say. He stunk, his team stunk and he hadn’t hadn’t even had time to think yet about whether his Hawks’ career was over or impending free agency because the season had just ended.

When the cameras were turned off and almost everybody, Josh Smith said what he really thought. Of course he knew this was probably it.

“As I walked off the court, everything just sort of hit me,” the Hawks’ forward said late Friday night. “Just the uncertainty of what the future holds. Just thinking about all of the relationships I’ve had here and the people who’ve crossed my path since I’ve been here. I just … I just don’t know.”

Does he want to come back?

“The only thing I know is I want to be able to experience free agency. I want to explore my options and see what’s out there. I don’t have any certain idea what’s going to happen.”

He didn’t sound like a guy eager to return. The fact most in attendance Friday night didn’t sound eager for him to be back — screaming the usual “Nooooooooos!” when he pulled up for jumpers and booed when he missed — speaks volumes about the situation.

The Hawks’ season ended Friday night. They lost 81-73 to the Indiana Pacers, losing the best-of-seven playoff series in six games.

There is no shortage of reasons why they’re done. Sharing dishonors at the top of the list: a one-basket/nine-point second quarter, a 15-minute stretch of the second and third quarter without a field goal going through the basket (the only hoop coming on a goaltending call) and the Hawks collectively shooting 33.3 percent.

The Hawks should have played like a desperate team. Instead, they just played like a defeated team. They were being blown out and booed in Philips Arena – which was only two-thirds filled, even if the Pinocchios in marketing and ownership called it a sellout – until coming to life in the last six minutes. (Too late.)

But the worst of the worse was Smith, and he knew it. If this was Smith’s final game as a Hawk – and that’s the guess here – it was as ugly of an ending as Chipper Jones’ final game with the Braves.

The difference: Jones didn’t get booed and slid into retirement as a franchise icon. Smith slides into free agency still a polarizing figure after nine seasons in Atlanta.

He shot five for 16 on a 14-point night, four-turnover night. He took the Hawks’ first shot of the night (a missed 22-footer). He missed seven of his first eight attempts. He threw away two passes in the first two and a half minutes of the second quarter.

With only 43 seconds left and Indiana leading 78-73, Smith fired up a three-point attempt (“Nooooo!”) that was partially blocked by David West.

Game over.

Smith and his defense against Paul George was the biggest reason the Hawks won two games in this series. He scored 29 points in Game 4. But he scored only 14 points in each of the next two games and shot a combined 10 for 32.

How much Smith’s shooting was because of poor decision making — the fans’ vote — and how much could be attributed to health reasons is uncertain. Smith conceded that the sprained ankle he suffered late in Game 2 bothered him the remainder of the series and hindered his ability to drive to the basket.

But that doesn’t explain everything. “My shot just wasn’t going,” he said.

Hawks coach Larry Drew, who has his own future to worry about, defended Smith.

“As a team, we didn’t do a good job with our shot selection. We settled. It wasn’t just Josh Smith,” he said.

“Josh Smith, we need to remember, while a lot of people talk about his shot selection, he brings a lot of other things to the table. His effort against an All-Star, Paul George, was absolutely phenomenal. Josh is a versatile guy. He brings a lot to the table.”

The backdrop suggests he’ll be bringing all aspects of his game, both positive and negative, to another team’s table next season. Smith is worn down being the lightning rod in Atlanta whenever something goes wrong with this team. He has been for a while.

Forget Smith previous comments about viewing himself as a max money player. If another team offers anything close to what the Hawks offer, Smith almost certainly will be gone.

Asked what he would say to fans to if this was his final game, Smith said, “If this was it, I’ll say something when it happens.”

I’m expecting that to happen. And it’s safe to say this wasn’t the way he wanted to go out.

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