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Marcus Smart on verge of return with series in the balance

Coaches have made adjustment after adjustment after adjustment and the series is now tied 2-2. What will be the Celtics next counter? It could be Boston’s x-factor: Marcus Smart.

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

A friend of mine has started to make her own kombucha. I don’t drink the stuff, but what goes in it sound enticing enough: tea, sugar, and vinegar. I like all those things like I like hard-nosed defense, a varied offense, and coaching that can adjust on the fly. While the Celtics enter these playoffs without a few key ingredients, Boston has resembled the team that won 55 games this year. However, there’s one important element that’s missing from kombucha and these Celtics.

When brewing kombucha, the essential process involves a SCOBY. That’s an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. Frankly, I don’t know what that is, but it looks like something alien. It’s some sort of bacteria that helps ferment the whole thing, but I don’t understand it. After all the bubbling and fermenting and symbiosis, it just works.

Marcus Smart is the SCOBY that this series needs.

This series has turned nasty. Every playoff series does. With every adjustment, there’s another and another counter to that until teams get boiled down to the sixth best thing they can do. This first round match up has gone from Terry Rozier vs. Eric Bledsoe to who wins the turnover battle to The Thon Maker Show. With at least two games left, Smart could turn everything upside down and in the end, make a $5 bottle of kombucha and push the Celtics to the second round.

Smart will get the torn UCL in his thumb checked out in New York on Tuesday (before Game 5) and could be cleared and available for Thursday’s Game 6 in Milwaukee. Brad Stevens has said that “he’s doing everything but live. So he hasn’t played any like 2-on-2, 3-on-3, 4-on-4, 5-on-5. I think it’s just a matter of you have to have that post-surgery healed to be able to take a hit even with the brace on it. That’s the hold-up. Other than that, I think he feels pretty good. He’s shooting the ball, he’s doing everything in a workout that you can do. It’s just a matter of being cleared for live play.”

His numbers against the Bucks aren’t impressive on paper--9 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists in just under 30 minutes in three games--but Smart’s impact on a game are hardly quantifiable in stats, at least by traditional box scores. In three games vs. Milwaukee, he had a DefRtg of 99.1.

Per Second Spectrum and NBA Stats, Smart matched up most against the now starting Malcolm Brogdon (48 possessions over two games) and Bucks’ leading scorer Khris Middleton (32 possessions over two games). When they shared the floor, the Celtics were 23.2 and 13.9 points better respectively. That’s not all Marcus, but if you’re a Smart stan, it’s always all Marcus. It’s difficult to predict Smart’s overall effect. Partly because his offensive game resembles, well, SCOBY, but we all know that he’ll throw himself into the mix and something will happen.

For the series, Middleton is averaging a robust 25.5 points on 61.5% shooting. He’s a murderer in the mid-range and the 6’8 swingman doesn’t seem bothered by any of the Celtics defenders. The 6’7 Jaylen Brown has been his primary defender, but Middleton has had his way. Enter Smart.

Smart isn’t going to match the Bucks block for block or generate a ton of turnovers, but he’s an agitator. He’ll fight through screens, spoon shooters as they rise for a jump shot without fouling, and more importantly, get in their heads.

With Smart heading into restricted free agency this summer, this will be Danny Ainge’s final chance to evaluate Smart’s worth. If Marcus helps clinch this series with his brand of bizarro basketball for a Celtics team looking for a spark, that could go a long way in weighing his intangible value to the franchise.

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