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Brad Stevens on Marcus Smart’s Game 5: “he was made for these moments”

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We finally got our Marcus Smart Game.

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics - Game Five Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

At the beginning of the day, I tried to write a Marcus Smart Game into existence:

“...let’s not forget that the embodiment of this Celtics team still resides in the heart and play of its longest tenured player. As enigmatic as (Marcus) Smart can be, he’s going to win Boston a big game in these playoffs and the boo birds will be silenced about his impending restricted free agency. Like Marcus says, ‘what’s understood don’t need to be said.’”

It happened last night.

With three minutes left in the game, the Sixers took a 3-point lead on a Ben Simmons bullyball post up. Marcus Smart tried to tie the game on a 3 in Joel Embiid’s face, it rimmed out, and you could feel the game unraveling for the Celtics. Smart had somehow extended too far out of his comfort zone and the basketball gods punished him for trying to touch the sun.

After making just 8-of-36 from behind the arc since returning from thumb surgery, it seemed like Smart had been more deliberate with his shot selection in Game 5, using his size and strength to ground smaller guards like JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli in the post. That three felt hero ball-ish.

On the ensuing play, Smart went into winning plays mode. He got Redick ISO’d on his back, drew a foul, and hit one of two from the line. Jayson Tatum took over the next sixty seconds with a drive on Simmons and a PnR alley-oop to Al Horford and with the Celtics still down two, the Tommy Points leader tied the game on a Tommy Point:

Smart loves crashing the offensive glass and he’s usually mid-air when the shot goes up. Instead, Smart plays it, well, smart. He boxes out Redick first and out jumps Embiid AND Simmons AND Dario Saric for the tip in.

We’re not even close to done yet. We’re not even on the loop de loops of the Marcus Smart rollercoaster. Back on defense, the Sixers tried to give Smart a taste of his own medicine by posting the bigger Saric up on him.

Sure it’s a flop, but it works out. Smart inadvertently pulls the chair on Saric and Horford gets credited with the steal.

And then, in another “don’t, don’t, don’t Marcus...YES!” Smart moment, he reads the defense and reacts quickly to Tatum’s back cut on Simmons. He threads a 30-foot pass to Tatum for two and the lead.

Smart doesn’t zip it in there or carefully lob it in. It just sorta gets there at the right moment where destiny and fate meet. The margin of error is razor thin, but that’s where Marcus Smart lives. After Rozier strips Embiid of an offensive rebound and hits two free throws, Redick broke free of Smart and peeled around a few picks for a three pointer. Celtics 113 - 76ers 112.

With the game still in the balance, it’s Brad Stevens time with a heavy dose of Smart. After a dazzling display of ATO’s in Game 3, Stevens kept it simple and designed a quick pick play for Horford to get the ball running towards Smart inbounding on the sideline. Horford was 81.3% at the stripe this season, but Brad wasn’t playing for the intentional foul necessarily; he wanted to run out the clock. As Horford gets the ball, Smart jumps back into the play with some open space vacated in the key to dribble out the final few seconds. TJ McConnell quickly recovers, fouls, and puts Smart on the line.

And in the Smartiest of Smart games, he misses the first FT, but makes the intentional miss.

Then, in true Marcus Smart fashion, he saves the game on pure hustle, playing free safety and catching Simmons’ hail mary at the buzzer. Here’s Jaylen Brown describing the final play:

“That’s a Marcus Smart sequence. That just describes him so well. He tries to miss a free throw, makes it, gets back, makes the steal, puts his body on the line… He didn’t care if he ran into somebody or if he hurt himself, he was coming up with that ball.”

These other highlights from earlier in the game and his 14-6-6 don’t seem to matter. They will be overshadowed in totality by another Tatum 20+ point game, the Terry Rozier-Drew Bledsoe bromance, and the steady hand of Horford, but Smart was the clutchest Celtic in a moment that the team needed him the most. As Stevens says, “when your season is on the line and you’re in the playoffs, you’ve got to do really hard things. He can do really hard things.” The Sixers have The Process. Tatum, Brown, and Terry Rozier have shown the Celtics’ progress. Players can work on their jump shot and ball handling in the off season, but what Smart has doesn’t develop over the summer. Pride isn’t processed. Guts don’t progress. Smart’s just a winner.