A ho-hum eight points, one rebound, and one assist is what you’ll see in the box score for Marcus Smart. It was twenty-eight minutes of statistical meh, but when Danny Ainge and the Celtics signed him to a 4-year, $52M contract last summer, they knew what they were paying for were his intangibles. It’s partly why he’s been inserted into the starting lineup and completely why he’s one of the most important voices in the locker room. Before any of these team meetings and before Kyrie Irving became such a vocal leader, it was Smart leading the charge.
Throw out the stat sheet if you’re looking for his impact in last night’s big win in Memphis. You won’t find the winning plays on the page. But after a disappointing loss two night ago against the Rockets, it was Marcus Smart who had his fingerprints all over Boston’s biggest comeback of the season*.
*I’m aware of the Phoenix game, but this is Memphis in the Grindhouse
Marcus Morris said it was good to see “Smarty do Smarty things.” The rare double Smarty.— Jay King (@ByJayKing) December 30, 2018
Midway through the third quarter, the Celtics were down fifteen points. Brad Stevens substituted Gordon Hayward and Guerschon Yabusele for Marcus Morris and Al Horford, but kept starters Marcus Smart, Kyrie Irving, and Jayson Tatum in the game. Boston had nibbled around the edges of Memphis’ lead, but hadn’t yet put together a definitive run yet.
And then Smart happened.
Smart looks like a linebacker who plays with an aggression only cage fighters tap into, but don’t underestimate his head for the game. He’s a cerebral player who can see two or three steps ahead as a play develops. He knows that Marc Gasol is deep in the paint and is going to want to get to his right hand and shoot over Guerschon Yabusele.
Again, Smart is simultaneously watching Gasol’s eyes and Jaren Jackson Jr. cutting behind him. Not only does the 6’4 center steal the ball, but he hits the transition three. By the end of the 3rd, the Celtics had cut the lead in half.
Smart wouldn’t see the floor until the final five minutes when the game was in the balance. It was winning time for Mr. Winning Plays. NBA Stats didn’t even record one of Smart’s big defensive plays that went to video review:
After getting switch off of Mike Conley in a pick-and-roll with Marc Gasol, Smart dropped down into the paint to again play center fielder. He gets his feet set in front of the driving Conley for what I thought was either 1) an offensive foul or 2) a turnover because the ball never touches Smart as it passes under his legs. Secaucus thought otherwise.
No matter. On the ensuing inbound pass, Smart picks off Garrett Temple’s pass to preserve the Celtics’ four-point lead.
After the loss in Houston, Irving chided the young Celtics for not doing the “little things” and implored them to find other ways to affect the game. That, of course, is Marcus Smart music and yet again, he came through when Boston needed him most.