Marcus Smart will make his return to the Celtics lineup Monday night after serving a one-game suspension for an incident that occurred Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs. In case Smart needed any extra motivation as he looks to redeem himself, one of his teammates is here to provide it.
"Obviously, as a team, he owes us one," Evan Turner told reporters after yesterday's game. "I think we're all motivated."
Smart does owe his team. With the rookie banned from last night's game, Boston was abused by a Detroit Pistons backcourt that scored a combined 64 points. Smart's physical defense could have helped slow down their penetrating attack, while his play making would have been a welcome addition to a Celtics offense that looked stagnant at times. Smart could have been a difference maker in a game the Celtics ultimately let slip away in overtime.
Smart also owes his team a better explanation. While he claims that the low blow to Matt Bonner was a "freak accident," it was pretty clear to anyone watching that the running uppercut that landed below the belt had at least a hint of intention behind it. It was a play that came out of frustration - a momentary lapse in judgement. It's an issue that could easily be brushed aside had Smart owned up to it and apologized, but making excuses and deflecting the blame shows a lack of maturity that is arguably more troubling than the act itself.
"Looking at the film, it does look a little intentional. But that's not who I am," Smart explained prior to Monday's game. "I'm not a dirty player, nor was I trying to [hit Bonner below the waistband]. But looking at the film, I can definitely see where that comes into play. The NBA made the right decision with the one-game suspension and I'm just glad to be back out here tonight with these guys."
That's a solid start by saying the right things about accepting the suspension, but it still sounds like Smart is apologizing for the mistake while still denying his intent.
The officials assessed a flagrant-2 foul to Smart and ejected him from the game, with the league tacking on a suspension the following day.
"I thought [the suspension] was predictable, so I'm not really surprised," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "Hopefully it's an isolated incident and we move on from it. I felt like, after watching it again... it's clearly an unacceptable play."
Except this isn't really an isolated incident because we've seen this happen with Smart before. He came into the league with a history of having a bad temper, which was prominently on display when he shoved a fan during a game while he was at Oklahoma State. Now there may have been circumstances that warranted such a reaction, but the incident has still left a lasting impression that continues to follow him.
Smart has now picked up two flagrant-2 fouls in his rookie season, putting him on the verge of another suspension. The NBA charges 1 point for more minor flagrant fouls and 2 points for more egregious incidents. Players are banned with a 1-game suspension once they reach 5 points, and Smart already has 4.
None of this is to suggest that Smart is a bad kid. For the most part he has been a great teammate and shown poise beyond his years on the court. That's the version of Smart that we typically see, but he's made a few mistakes, which unfortunately are what many people will remember.
The concern is that the rookie is developing a bad reputation early in his career, which players often find difficult to shake. If he continues to allow incidents like this to occur, the league will take that into consideration when assessing his punishment. He was lucky to escape with only a 1-game ban this time, but if it happens again then the league may be less forgiving. Officials will also be less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt on hard fouls if he has a reputation of being a dirty player. He isn't that type of player, but perception is nine-tenths of the law in this case.
Smart needs to keep his cool moving forward to prevent this reputation from growing. He's a young player that let his emotions get the better of him. It happens. We can forgive it as long as Smart takes responsibility for his actions and doesn't allow incidents like this to keep happening.
When he returns to the court tonight, Smart can begin the process of putting this mess behind him by being productive and helping his team pick up a much needed victory. He owes them that.