Shorthanded and devoid of confidence, the Boston Celtics went into last night’s game needing performances from Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward. Unfortunately, neither were able to provide the spark the team required against a young Phoenix team that always seems to perform against them.
With both Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown sitting the game out due to injury, and Tatum and Hayward struggling, the Celtics looked short of firepower from the get go. Enter Marcus Smart, who is showing a remarkable improvement in his shooting from deep this year and shows no sign of fear when his number is called.
Smart took a game high 25 shots as he fought tooth and nail to keep the score close down the stretch. There were some easy buckets and some which made you double check to see if it really was him who had taken (and made) that shot.
Only three of his shots came on the inside, as Smart got hot early and rode that shooting form all the way to a Celtics all-time record of threes made in a game (11). As you can see from the shot chart above there was one from very deep, which while infuriating to watch, was a clear indicator of the confidence he had.
That was the Marcus Smart heat check of all Marcus Smart heat checks.— Jay King (@ByJayKing) January 19, 2020
Smart was fading off screens, allowing the ball handler to drive into the paint and kick it back out to the wide open Smart for yet another three point attempt. Hayward did a great job of this, running the pick-and-roll and finding Smart open on the perimeter multiple times through the game.
When the team is fully healthy, there should be no reason for him to take 25 shots in a game. Assuming all four of Hayward, Brown, Tatum and Walker start, Smart would be coming off the bench to provide a steady playmaking hand along with bench points. This makes the performance all the more impressive. The 5th option on offense jut destroyed the Suns perimeter defense in spectacular fashion.
These exploits do point to a role change for Smart though, should he continue to score so regularly from deep and maintain a respectable percentage. The Celtics bench will have the primary scorer it so desperately needs. All true contenders have scorers who can come off the bench to impact games when needed and this is something the Celtics are currently lacking.
His ability to find the open man could also help the bench unit unlock stringent defenses. On the season, Basketball-Reference has Smart dropping 4.7 assists per game. If he can shoot between 8-12 shots from the bench and provide 3-5 assists while continuing to be the teams best defender, the future looks far brighter than it currently does for the injury-ravaged Celtics.
Despite this record setting outburst from deep, it’s safe to say the Smart is not going to be morphing into Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry anytime soon. As such a bench role still beckons once the squad returns to full health - if it ever returns to full health. He will know this too, which makes last night performance all the more special.
Boston’s current favorite Celtic made history in the TD Garden in front of thousands of adoring fans. He loves the team and the city. Putting the loss aside, this was a very entertaining performance, one where we got to see Smart display everything he embodies for this team - grit, leadership, and compassion.
This is leadership. Smart was visibly encouraging Hayward following his missed attempt off a great alley-oop pass. There was no “chewing him out” for the miss. Instead, he goes over and encourages him to work to get the ball back and attack the next possession. To come out on social media and defend Hayward in such a classy way epitomizes how Smart values his teammates and the team chemistry which is so well documented this year.
Hayward was clearly distraught following that miss. It’s a shot he should be making, but Smart chose to wrap a friendly arm around him and show encouragement. Moments like that are just as important to the teams trajectory as Smart’s development as a shooter. He’s a true leader both on and off the court.
Not a tough pill. Every player has been here. He’s a great teammate and a great player and what he does for our team is immeasurable! Love our team! https://t.co/1dnnr2ocXI— marcus smart (@smart_MS3) January 19, 2020
No matter what else happens in the remainder of January, we will always have the Marcus Smart 37-point night where he became the most unlikely player to hold most threes in a game.