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In Kemba’s absence, Smart comes up big

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The fire and passion he brings every night is irreplaceable.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

In what was an unexpectedly hard fought game against the Atlanta Hawks, Marcus Smart graced the Celtics with a big performance, finishing the game with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. Smart was everywhere.

His patient offense and smart passing was giving the Hawks trouble all night. They came in expecting to deal with his hounding on defense and left respecting his ability as a floor general. There seems to be no limit to what Smart can do on a basketball court when he is locked in like this. While Celtics fans have come to expect the unexpected from him, other teams must sometimes leave wondering what they missed on the scouting report. Last night would have been one of those nights as the Hawks failed to capitalize on a very poor start from the Celtics.

Smart got going early with this nice spin move on Trae Young down low, finishing with the reverse to avoid a block. From there, his influence on the game grew in stature on each possession.

On Boston’s next trip down the floor, Smart registers his first assist of the game. Receiving the ball from Daniel Theis and guiding Young into a Theis screen, Young tries to go over the top, but gets tangled. Somehow, Young manages to recover and go under the screen to meet Smart, so Theis simply sets another screen and Smart goes left, driving into the teeth of the defense.

John Collins drops to counter the threat of Smart’s drive, slightly over committing in the process. A nice pocket pass finds Theis on a cut and finishes with a dunk.

Assists like those shouldn’t come as a surprise though. Cleaning the Glass has Smart ranked in the 94th percentile for assists. That is 21.4 percent of his passes ending in a bucket for his teammates. He kept true to form on his ability to secure the ball too, only turning the ball over once. For the season, he is in the 85th percentile turning the ball over 9 times per 100 possessions.

Affecting the game when you have the ball is one thing, but your ability to influence defenses when you are off-ball is a defining trait of great players. Smart is getting better at that aspect of his game every year and Max Carlin spotted a great example of this from the game.

Smart does everything correct. After spinning off his man and driving into the paint, he kicks the ball out to the weak side corner for Grant Williams. He then continues his run and curls back out to the strong side slot and receives the ball back. This sucks both his man and DeAndre’ Bembry towards Smart. His pump fake gets Bembry off his feet and leaves Gordon Hayward wide open from deep. Smart feeds Hayward the ball for an easy shot and registers another assist.

Another thing to note is that the defense reacted to Smart receiving the ball back in this manner because they respect his ability to score from deep. A couple of years ago, teams would have kept their original coverage and dared him to shoot the ball.

Now, however, Smart is shooting roughly 6 times a game and connecting on 32.2 percent of those attempts according to Basketball Reference. He isn’t a sharpshooter by any means, but he is capable of making those long range attempts which forces teams to close out on him more regularly.

On the defensive end, Smart continued to do what he does best, achieving a nice career milestone along the way.

With the intensity the he plays the game and the pride he takes on defense there is no reason to believe Smart will not keep climbing that all-time steals ladder. He is in the 87th percentile this year for steals, poking the ball away twice per 100 possessions.

In a game that will be remembered for his clutch three or for his polarizing late game entanglement with Young, it should be remembered that when Boston was missing their All-Star point guard, Smart stepped up in a big way, making his teammates better on both ends of the floor.

Like him or loathe him, there is no denying he is the leader of this team. The fire and passion he brings to this roster every night is irreplaceable, if he can sustain this level of production on a nightly basis, then Boston could have two All-Star guards on the roster come playoffs.