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Marcus Smart and the art of the winning play

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During the playoffs Marcus Smart has continued to do what he does best: impact winning in all the little ways

Boston Celtics v Chicago Bulls - Game Four Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Gerald Green got the Celtics started in Game 4, and Isaiah Thomas kept them going for most of the second half. But in the fourth quarter, Marcus Smart was a big part of why the Celtics were able to hold onto their lead and close out the game on top to even up the series with Chicago.

Smart tends to be a divisive figure. His spirited attitude is often one of his best attributes and a driving force behind his success as a Celtic so far. Yet infuriatingly, the young player still struggles to keep his head in the game and his aggression on the court.

Things like arguing with coaching staff, making obscene gestures toward fans, and getting into altercations with Jimmy Butler, among others, don’t paint a pretty picture. Truly, these are not generally the actions of a level-headed athlete ready to perform at the highest level.

However these types of actions also add up to show exactly how fiery a competitor Smart really is, despite anything Jimmy Butler says. Ultimately while Smart’s aggressive attitude may lead to some bone-headed decisions off the court, this warrior’s outlook is also what drives a lot of Smart’s success on the court.

There are still plenty of issues with Smart’s game, and those waiting on him to blossom into superstardom are growing increasingly impatient. Yet Smart has improved in a number of key ways this season, particularly as an on-court leader, and some of this is showing up in the playoffs.

Here Smart battles with three Bulls for the board and then quickly gets the ball to the perimeter where it ends up finding an open Al Horford for the easy three.

Smart’s much-derided outside shooting improved this season, though not dramatically (From 25.8% last season to 28.4% this season.) However, during the playoffs Smart’s 3P% has jumped up to a staggering 37.5%. Interestingly, a similar spike can be seen in Smart’s shooting percentages from last year’s playoffs as well, where he shot at 34.4% from long range. This is a guy who just loves to compete.

With increased usage this season most of Smart’s numbers have seen slight if not significant improvements. But it’s in late game situations especially where Smart excels. Possibly unsurprisingly, this is also when he tends to play alongside the starters.

But Smart has always made up for his negative points and proven his importance to the Celtics by ‘making winning plays.’ He is a tremendous on-court leader, as is visible every time you see him play. He directs traffic and commands the court like a veteran, despite still being extremely young at only 23 years old.

Here Smart runs the whole court to block the passing lane and come up with the steal leading to an easy fastbreak bucket for the Celtics

More than anything though, and as has been said time and time again, it’s Smart’s intangibles that make him such a great presence on the roster. His positioning, his ability to get his teammates open, his intense defensive presence, snatching the ball from opponents, hustling on every play—these are the types of things that coaching staff and teammates are referring to when they talk about all the little ways that Marcus Smart impacts winning.

So far in the playoffs we’ve seen some of Smart’s best basketball all season. There’s just something about the level of intensity that he seems to respond to well. For the Celtics, it’s best if Smart stays aggressive and stays competitive because if they’re going to win games, they’re going to need his winning plays.