It’s been five games (excluding Sunday’s game against the Knicks where he sustained an injury) since Marcus Smart took that ill-fated shot to close the game in Sacramento. The shot which lost the Boston Celtics their ten-game winning streak. A broken play with only seconds left on the clock, the ball found Smart with what looked like an easy drive.
Five seconds left on the clock, the ball is quite rightly in Kemba Walker’s hands. Kemba drives towards the rim, but is met by a solid double team from Cory Joseph and Richaun Holmes that forces the pass.
Smart, who had been on the strong side corner, fades to the elbow three which makes him the best passing option. Jayson Tatum is covered by Harrison Barnes, who is taking away his driving option. Kemba has passed out of a double team but remained guarded by Joseph. Daniel Theis is on the weak side block and is now covered by Holmes. Jaylen Brown is on the far side corner and it would be a ridiculous idea to attempt that pass in this situation. Furthermore, Bogdan Bogdanovic is covering the passing lane on the low help line.
There was no other viable option than the one Smart took. He head fakes, drops his shoulder, and drives past Buddy Hield. Daylight. As he enters the restricted area he rises for the floater, but is met by both Holmes and Joseph. Smart manages to get the shot off and over the two defenders. The ball hits the front rim then the back board followed by a dramatic unfriendly roll.
Celtics lose 100-99 and their win streak is over.
Celtics lose a heartbreaker in Sacramento before they come to Phoenix. Great win for the Kings. https://t.co/CA9MiHgqUE— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) November 17, 2019
Heading into that game, Smart was averaging 12 points, 4.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. His splits were 41.3 percent from the field, 40.8 percent from behind the arc, and 78.6 percent from the line.
A miss like that would affect most players for a few weeks. Their production would slide until their confidence returned. Not Marcus.
The very next night he went for 17 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block against Phoenix. Boston won that game with one of their best showings of the season on both ends of the floor. Smart’s full repertoire was on display that night, as he bounced back in impressive fashion, going 4 of 4 from the line and 5 of 12 from the field while hounding opposing players on defense.
NBA Stats shows something very interesting for this game. Smart guarded ten players for a total of 10:22 of defensive possessions. In those ten minutes he held his opponent to a total of four points and three assists. He locked down whoever he was guarding, although some he guarded for literally a second.
It was just the bounce back game he needed, helping propel the team straight back into the win column. Two days later the brutal road trip continued, this time pitting the Celtics against the champions-elect LA Clippers. Smart loves these games and takes pride in guarding the league’s elite.
What ensued was a scrappy game with both teams struggling to assert themselves on the offensive end. The atmosphere resembled that of a playoff game, not a game in mid-November.
“It was a high-level game,” says Brad Stevens. “Both teams competed, even when shots weren’t going down.”— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 21, 2019
Offensively Smart struggled in this game, going 1 for 11 from three and 7 for 20 from the field. The shots just weren’t falling for him or anyone else on the floor.
As you would expect, Smart guarded the three biggest threats on the Clippers roster. Guarding Kawhi Leonard, Smart held him to 1 of 7 shooting from the field and 1 of 5 from deep whilst also forcing a turnover. Paul George had a better time when guarded by Smart though. Dropping nine points from deep on just four attempts and dishing out an assist to top it off. No wonder Smart only spent 2:39 matching up with him. Lou Williams had Smart in his grill for a similar amount of time but failed to capitalize the same way George did. Going 0 for 2 from the field and turning the ball over, Smart had his number. Williams did manage to get to the line in this time though, draining both attempts.
Next up was another tough game, this time against the Denver Nuggets. Following his struggles from deep in the previous game, Smart seemed to move away from shooting the three. Instead he chose to attack the paint and mid-range, going 5 of 11 from the field for 15 points. He also added 6 rebounds, 3 assists and two steals along with an unfortunate 4 turnovers.
What was nice to see was him opening the scoring for the Celtics with a similar play to that which he closed out the Sacramento game.
Coming off a screen from Daniel Theis, he loses his dribble slightly before regaining control. During this time Theis has rolled into the paint and sealed Nikola Jokic on the strong side low post. Smart shrugs off the tight defense from Gary Harris, drives the lane and puts up the floater. This time it’s cash money.
While the circumstances of his play were totally different, seeing him make the play with confidence reminds you what Smart is all about. He doesn’t shy from any moment, be it the opening possession of a game or the final shot of the night.
I enjoyed this play, too. Receiving the ball from Kemba on the weak side shoulder three. Smart shows a crafty stutter step dribble and makes a run across court. Utilizing his body and a “semi euro-step” he guides his man into the post, turns and rises for the moving jumper.
Not a smart play by any means, but it was an enjoyable one with a pretty finish. It does allude to his confidence levels though. He is obviously feeling like he can make those shots now.
This game was a tough one for Boston though, who were never able to recover from the first quarter onslaught from the Nuggets. They fell to a 92-96 loss to end the game.
After a weekend off, the Celtics were back in Boston on Monday night and ready to seek revenge against Sacramento. Fittingly this was the day Zach Lowe released his latest podcast episode, interviewing none other than Marcus Smart.
Smart also said he still has pieces of glass remaining in his hand. Some chunks were so deeply embedded that doctors feared more harm would be done if they were removed.— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) November 25, 2019
He literally plays with glass in his hand, which is the most Marcus Smart thing everhttps://t.co/lr9mbXTZp3
This interview provided you with a deeper insight to Smart the person, his experiences on the team, and that fateful night he punched out a picture frame. Having been recorded during the road trip, it was interesting to hear how he was preparing his mind and body for each night of battle on the court.
Just a few hours later, there he was, back on the court again to face the Kings. Redemption. Boston closed out a tight game to win the contest 103-102.
With the clock running down in the fourth quarter, he treated us to this gem of a spin move.
There he was again, the game possibly on the line and the ball in his hands. No fear.
He drives off a screen from Jaylen Brown, brings the ball laterally and parallel to the sideline and spins. His defender reads it well and slides to cut off the lane, attempting to draw a charge in the process. Failing to sell the flop, Smart continue to the rim and finishes the easy layup.
The man with glass in his hand did it again, finishing the game with 17 points, 7 assists, 5 steals and 3 rebounds.
His performances this year are vastly improved on the offensive end. Cleaning the Glass shows he is assisting on 21.1 percent of his teammates made shots whilst on the floor, ranking in the 89th percentile. He is also scoring 50 percent of his three point attempts not taken from the corners, ranking him in 90th percentile.
The 6th pick in the 2014 draft has evolved in front of our eyes, from an eager young guard into the true leader of this team. A leader who finished last year as an All-NBA 1st Team defender. Now he is showing he can be a closer should the need arise, too. While he may not be the best finisher, there are few other players who remain as cool as him when the pressure is on.