What a wonderful return to the starting lineup for Marcus Smart on Friday night in a home win against the Atlanta Hawks. Kemba Walker sat out another game with a nagging illness and TD Garden faithful enjoyed another complete Marcus Smart Experience. With 43 seconds left in the game (13 seconds left in the shot clock) and the Celtics up by one, Smart took one of his patented “no-no-yes” three pointers, drilling it to clinch the Boston win.
It was not only this huge three that had everyone singing the praises of Marcus Smart after the game. He finished the game with 15 points and, more importantly, 9 assists over his 35 minutes. Smart was making plays all night that created open looks on the offensive end.
From the tip, Smart knew he could take advantage of Trae Young on defense. The sets that were called and executed by Smart focused around this match up. A huge weakness of Young is his defense, and it showed. The team went cold for much of the first half, but the looks were there. Once they started to fall, the offense started churning. Five Smart assists came in the third quarter when the shots finally started falling. Although there was none bigger than this assist and Enes Kanter finish to beautifully illustrate this game plan.
A major theme was trying to get Smart down in the trenches posting up on the smaller Young. It made Alex Len decide to leave Kanter and help Young on-ball. Then, just as predicted, it freed up a cutting big man for the slam. It was the perfect mismatch to attack, leaving open shooters and cutters all night long.
Marcus Smart also had a big test on the defensive end. Trae Young gets his accolades on offense, and Smart was the one to match up against him. It was back and forth with these two most of the night. Smart was definitely aggravating Young with his physical play, but Young still finished with 28 points. There were multiple occasions where Smart was screened and did not get the help which resulted in an open three, so all was not Smart’s fault. It was enough to win, and that is all that matters at the end of the day.
You really cannot say enough about Smart showing 100% physicality on the defensive end while still being able to create offense on the other side. The Hawks’ whole offense is built around continuous screens trying to free up Trae Young, and Smart showed his resilience fighting over them all night long. Young went 9-of-23 tonight, and the majority were defended by Smart.
Smart fights through screens, gets back in front of his man, and then blocks the shot as he recovers. Because of this Hawks game plan, Smart was relied on all night when on the floor against Trae Young. Young may have gotten the box score numbers, but Smart fought all game containing Young from single-handedly winning this game for the Hawks.
The talk after this game will probably be about how Smart disrespectfully “stepped” over Trae Young after Daniel Theis blocked him, but it should not overshadow the dominant game he had on both ends of the court. These are the games that give reason to Celtics Nation to ride or die with Marcus Smart. He plays physical every minute he’s on the court and was able to display that against Trae Young. He relatively contained him when he matched up against him defensively, then took advantage against Young’s poor defense on his game-winning three. When Smart is playing at this level, the sky is the limit for this Celtics’ team.