It happened that morning, when Smart joined his teammates at the Celtics practice facility in Waltham for shoot-around.
“As soon as I walked into the locker room, everyone started cheering and clapping,” Smart said. “That just shows the camaraderie that we have as a team, as a group. We lean on each other, and that’s the characteristic of a great team. We have a ways to go, but we’re still pushing.”
On the court, Smart’s impact was immediate.
The Celtics guard, spiritual leader and defensive specialist missed six weeks of action with torn thumb ligaments he suffered diving for a loose ball during a game against the Pacers on March 11th.
Less than a minute after checking into the game mid-way through the first quarter where could you find him? On the floor. Diving for a loose ball. It’s just what Marcus Smart does.
“I was always taught coming back from injuries the last thing you want to do is have a mental game going on with yourself, psyching yourself out,” Smart said. “Things are going to happen, it’s the game of basketball. If it’s supposed to happen it’s going to happen. You can’t control it. Just keep playing.”
Smart finished with a very Smart-like stat line: 9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists. But his impact was on the defensive end where he provided an immediate spark. It’s no coincidence that the Bucks – whose offense found it’s rhythm in games three and four in Milwaukee – had their worst offensive game of the series. A measly 87 points on 36% shooting.
“Marcus, man, he played hard,” said Bucks all-world Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo who was held to a series low 16 points. “He definitely gives that edge to the team, defensively and offensively. He definitely helped them a lot.
Celtics big man Al Horford said Smart’s impact on the entire team transcends his on court contributions.
I think I said it earlier in the year that he was like the soul of our team,” Horford said. “Everything he brings, the toughness, unselfishness and we fed of his energy tonight.”
Smart’s night ended very much as it began. With Smart on the deck, trying to make a play.
Late in the 4th with the final result not yet decided Smart stumbled on his way to the hoop. A mad scramble ensued with Smart on the floor fighting for the ball with four Milwaukee Bucks. No surprise, Smart came out with the ball. That would have been enough. But the man who may lead the league in so called “winning plays” made yet another, somehow finding Al Horford under the basket for a game sealing bucket.
“I felt like the crowd fed off of it, we fed off of it, and it’s just good to have him back,” Horford said. “It’s just been genuinely a really nice surprise for our group, because I didn’t think he was coming back. I didn’t want to get our hopes up even when I heard it was a possibility. We’re just happy to get him back, and he just had a huge impact on our team tonight.”
TRAGS & JOSUE FULL RECAP OF GAME 5:
Full full post-game pressers from Celtics and Bucks, click here.