Dominic Toretto once said, “It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning’s winning.” In their NBA season-opening win, the Boston Celtics channeled their inner Fast & Furious to edge out the Milwaukee Bucks, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown the supercars that drove the charge.
Midway through the first movie in the Fast franchise, Brian (Paul Walker) owes Dominic (Vin Diesel) a ten-second car. Having totaled his last mechanical wonder, Brian provides Dom with a well-worn chassis that’s screaming for a return to its former glory.
Jeff Teague is that chassis, a battle-weary vet whose value sits below the sum of his parts.
Then there’s Marcus Smart, a streetcar with a supercharged engine, flying around the court causing havoc and drawing charges. Smart is quite clearly Roman Reigns, braggadocios and always yearning for a fight.
Against the Bucks, both Teague and Smart provided their optimal performance, sticking to their roles and operating as finely tuned machines. Here we had two stellar point guard performances, yet one finished with a glowing box score, while the other’s is threadbare. Both guards contributed to this victory, but outsiders will only see one side of the story, much like Brian’s time undercover with the LAPD.
In Teague, the Celtics found a steady playmaker who’s already hot from behind the arc. The former 19th pick shot 4-for-4 from deep and 7-for-15 overall on his way to a 19 point outing in his competitive Celtics debut. In contrast, Smart finished the contest with three points to his name, along with a team-high seven assists.
Let’s take a gander at how each of these guards made their presence felt.
In Kemba Walker’s absence, the Celtics looked like they would struggle to generate deep shooting opportunities for their guards off screens. Despite only one of Teague’s threes coming off a screen above the break, the confidence with which he pulled the trigger should go some way to dispelling any concerns while Walker continues to heal.
While the threes were great, it was Teague’s penetration that set the tone for the Celtics offense while he was on the floor. Continually attacking defenders off the dribble, forcing collapses, and making intelligent reads, the Indiana native was orchestrating everything whenever the ball was in his hands.
Above is Teague pushing the pace and getting to the rack following a smart swing pass from Jayson Tatum, which Grant Williams unselfishly redirected. And below is the former Atlanta Hawk operating as a playmaker in the Celtics high pick-and-roll scheme.
It would be unrealistic to expect this kind of performance from Teague on a nightly basis, but while Walker continues rehab from a stem cell injection in his knee, long may it continue.
Now, let’s look at Marcus Smart.
Giannis Antetokounmpo ended the game with five fouls, three of them courtesy of Smart drawing charges with intelligent positioning on the defensive end. In case you can’t remember each of them, the below clip has all three.
For the first charge, Smart reads Giannis and anticipates the step-through, beating his man to the position and drawing the offensive contact. On the second, Smart expects the drive and stands firm, and on the third, the guard plays the role of center, dropping in the paint and baiting the reigning MVP to attack the rim.
Versatility is something we speak endlessly about in terms of offense but often overlook on the other end of the court. Last night’s performance from the Oklahoma product is a reminder that versatility is a game-changer regardless of what area of the court it’s on.
The defensive masterclass didn’t stop at those charges either, as Smart finished the game tied with Giannis for first in blocks - despite the eight-inch height difference. The second block is more of a steal in fairness, but because Giannis had gathered the ball in shooting motion, it counts as a block.
Drawing charges, blocking shots, leading the game in deflections with three, Smart genuinely re-embraced his role as the team’s defensive lynchpin.
Marcus Smart led both teams with 3 deflections - 1 less than the entire Bucks roster. https://t.co/BCan8djurA— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) December 24, 2020
In embracing his role, Smart’s offensive remit would’ve been to facilitate others, there were some beauties, too, such as this swing pass after collapsing the defense.
There is a wonderfully unique juxtaposition between Teague and Smart, with both guards playing their roles to perfection. Alas, non-Celtics fans will seldom see the incredible defense that Smart played and the part he had in containing one of the most unguardable players in the entire league.
For all the scuttlebutt hovering around social media regarding Smart’s infatuation with becoming an offensive threat, we saw the pitbull last night, unleashed and ready to attack - that’s the player the Celtics need this year. It’s a similar story for Teague, too, seen as a player past his prime, when in reality, he just needed to find the right role for this point in his career.
Teague’s yin to Smart yang helped the Celtics overcome a Milwaukee Bucks team already tipped to contend for a championship. They will need to bring that same energy again on Christmas Day as the Celtics look to avenge their pre-season mauling by the Brooklyn Nets.
Oh, and who could forget that Teague steal-come-block in crunch time?
I’ll leave you with that as an early Christmas present. Happy Holidays!