Part 1 of The Garden Report Post Game Show: The Cobra Strikes Again
Part 2 of The Garden Report Post Game Show: ESPN’s Chris Forsberg crashes the show to break down Kelly Olynyk’s Manbun Superpowers and Carmelo Anthony making the All-Star team
BOSTON – Marcus Smart literally stole this one.
The Sixers hopped on the Celtics’ back all night, keeping it knotted up almost the entire way. When the Celtics pulled away in the second half, the Sixers snuck back in.
But then the Cobra got hungry.
After a series of crucial steals in crunch time, Smart joined Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Larry Bird as the only Celtics to have 8 steals in a game in the Basketball Reference database going back to the 83-84 season.
Things nearly went awry in the fourth quarter after blowing an 11-point lead, but Al Horford and Smart turned the dials on the defense to 11.
After getting hit with an offensive foul that turned into a flagrant one upon review, Horford made the crucial defensive play to retain control. The Sixers were on the break and lobbed an entry pass into the paint for what would be the tying basket. But Horford interecepted the pass, tipping it to Smart. The Celtics flew in transition and found Marcus for a wide open trailing three to go up 106-101.
Smart has taken the reigns of the defense, yelling out defensive assignments in transition the second the transition is initiated, all while backpedaling at full speed and covering his lane.
As soon as he gathers the Horford deflection, he already has a read on his tight end down field, hitting him between the numbers and hustling back for the trailer three to permanently swing momentum.
On the next play, the Celtics smothered the Sixers to the point that Nik Stauskas ended up tripping over his own dribble, leading to a Jae Crowder finish on the fast break. Marcus Smart robbed Stauskas blind and made him watch from the floor as Crowder kicked dust back in his face.
Smart had yet another pick pocket just to finish things off, putting him in some lofty company in Celtics history.
“I can honestly say this is the most comfortable I have been in a Celtic uniform,” Smart said. “It feels good, not only for myself but to be able to contribute to this team in other ways. It’s definitely something I will continue to try and keep doing.”
The Celtics went on a 12-2 run after the Celtics tied it at 99-99 at the 6:52 mark and Stevens put Smart in for Terry Rozier. The Celtics swiped five steals over the course of five minutes to reach their first double digit lead since the late third quarter.
Whether he is a smothering predator, or a sneaky snake in the grass, Smart’s smell for the ball’s lustful scent is as much skill and timing as it is sheer will.
Smart’s tenacity took the Sixers out of their game, hitting just two field goals in the final seven minutes well after the Celtics opened their lead. Sixers coach Brett Brown felt the heat emanating off of Smart’s orange tipped hair from all the way on the sideline.
“I give him tons of credit for his heart, I give him tons of credit for the improvement of his shot and he’s always been somebody that we studied from afar,” Brown said of Smart.
“When the draft was going on, we paid a lot of attention to Marcus Smart. There’s a toughness in him that you can’t help but respect.”
Smart fills any role defensively, something almost completely unparalleled at his position. Even his foul on Dario Saric, upon further review, looked like a textbook verticality play by a guard in the pivot against a charging big.
The Celtics ratcheted up their defensive intensity to close out the win, but Brown told me he wanted his team to attack that aggressive defense to defeat it.
“Drive it. Sometimes you’re fooling yourself if you think you’re gonna run perfect offense when you’ve got kamikaze defenders swarming you. I say fight fire with fire.
“You’ve got to be strong with the ball and we weren’t. It’s a learning experience for us and we have to have more composure.”
Smart helped take TJ McConnell out of his game, someone who has become a crucial leader for the Sixers as they continue to hold their own even with Joel Embiid injured. All while grating down Gerald Henderson until a few collisions with Smart led to his ejection.
“I thought I was maturing, but I think I took a step back tonight,” McConnell told me. “That’s not to take away from the game, it’s just the truth. When I came in, I was supposed to settle down the offense and I just didn’t do a good job of that.”
McConnell can take some solace in the fact that he is not the first, nor the last, to be struck by the Cobra. Especially in Avery Bradley’s absence, Smart has stopped flopping and started dominating.
“I think the ankle sprain at the start of the year was kind of an unfortunate kick-off to the year; it set [Smart] back a little bit,” Stevens said. “And then in the last few weeks I just think, like, he’s really found a rhythm and a groove. And it started on the defensive end with guarding at a really high level. I think he’s guarding even better than he did at the start of the year and he’s been good.”
Smart even agreed when asked if he felt his game has taken that ‘next step.’
“I think it has. I’ve been really trying to elevate my game especially going into the second half trying to keep the momentum alive.”
ISAIAH THOMAS CONTINUES TO FLIRT WITH HISTORY
Thomas made a little history Wednesday night, tying John Havlicek for a Celtics franchise record with his 40th consecutive 20-point game, per BBall Reference. Only 15 other players in NBA history have hit that mark in a season, all of whom are in the hall of fame or are Springfield bound.
The coaches taking the floor Wednesday night are still blown away by what he is achieving.
“He runs by you and you’re standing next to him and you realize just how unassuming he is,” Brown said. “It’s not like he’s 6’6. It’s not like he’s 230 lbs. and he still is so gifted and so elite and such a game a changer.
“Because he can shoot and then he can dance with the ball, then you come up and guard him and he’s able to take off and he’s clever at the rim. He can finish at the rim, use his body. He just is an All-Star for a reason and a 30-point NBA scorer for a reason and we felt all of that tonight.”
Thomas is the greatest weapon in Stevens’ arsenal, something that is hard not to take for granted.
“When you know you’re getting 20-plus points from a guy on a given night, it’s pretty a special trait. It’s pretty special to know that. He’s been amazing with his consistency regardless of how he feels, regardless of little nicks and bruises and everything else. He just kind of keeps going. And he’s a tough guy, he’s a tough-minded guy, and his consistency’s been impressive. And I think consistency and being able to do it every night is what separates – right? – the guys that, obviously you mentioned Havlicek, but the great ones.”
It was an appropriate comparison after Thomas will have his shot to pass Havlicek in this specific page in the Celtics’ history books.
Isaiah fell four points short of crossing the 30.0 ppg mark Wednesday night, which would pass Larry Bird’s franchise record of 29.9. He’ll need 34 points in Chicago Thursday night to cross that threshold.
How many points per game does Thomas average on the second night of back-to-backs?