The Marcus Smart Experience is a roller coaster ride, a sustained climb towards the apex followed by a fleeting moment to enjoy the view before you go crashing down. But before you reach the bottom, the slow climb begins again.
Throughout this season (and his entire career really), the experience has become more about enjoying the apex with less emphasis on the crashing back down. Smart has produced some of the best basketball of his professional career, starting the climb by adding an offensive punch to his already stellar defense. Those offensive improvements culminated in him setting a franchise record for most threes made in a game.
Smart has lead the team admirably when called upon, deputizing for Kemba Walker during his many injury absences. When he doesn’t start the game, he brings balance to a defensive-minded bench unit.
However, there is a flip side to what Smart brings to the floor. The passion and fire he displays on every possession can often boil over and burn Boston. Displays of aggression and petulance towards the officials are common and frustrating. When Smart isn’t arguing with officials or opposing players, but is in that type of “zone,” chances are he’s going to foul.
Against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, the Marcus Smart roller coaster began its descent in the fourth quarter. Brooklyn had somehow clawed their way back from a 17-point deficit, bringing the game down to a couple of possessions.
With the Celtics up three, and only seconds remaining on the clock, Smart committed a foul which sent Caris LaVert to the line. LaVert, who was having the game of his life, converted all three free throws to take the game to overtime.
After the buzzer, Smart took issue with the officials. Visibly angry, Smart got escorted from the floor into the locker room, where he showered and left the arena without speaking to the media.
NBA is fining Boston’s Marcus Smart $35K for interaction with refs in loss to Nets, per source.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 5, 2020
Herein was the Marcus Smart Experience as Boston fans have come to know it: a warrior on the court who wears his heart on his sleeve, willing to stand up for himself when he feels an injustice has occurred.
And it’s not just his occasional blow outs with the refs that have become ugly chapters in Smart’s story. His improvement on the floor has paradoxically made his offensive production a valuable piece of Boston’s production, but he’s been streaky. Killing the offensive momentum with poor shooting decisions have now factored into the overall Marcus Smart Experience, too.
He can go from an 18-point outing on 7-for-12 shooting, to a 4-point display while shooting 1-10 on a nightly basis. Yes, the scoring ability has improved, but consistency is still a work in progress for Smart.
On a night when Boston needed some scoring from Marcus Smart, he's started the game 1-of-10 from the floor.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) March 5, 2020
On the second night of a back-to-back in Cleveland, Smart struggled to get it going, finishing the game shooting 33 percent from the field on 5-for-15 shooting, providing more fouls (3) than assists (2). It’s those types of shooting numbers that can mislead the misinformed.He’s a respected shooter now. Teams will no longer sag off him, daring him to jack it up from beyond the break. Instead, defenses play him tighter, forcing the ball out of his hands to negate the threat he poses as a scorer.
Unfortunately, depending on which way the wind is blowing, Smart will either take what the defense is giving him or force the issue. Against Cleveland, he chose to force the issue. Against the Nets, he forced the problem; then, when he didn’t like the calls he was getting, he tried to force himself onto the refs.
Within 48 hours, Smart went off the deep end, reminding everyone that he can be a loose cannon and not a calming force. As an emotional leader, you live with those moments from him; they’re what make him so influential within the locker room. Like Brad Stevens once said, it’s why we trust him and love him.
So, while Smart is currently the villain in some fan’s eyes, let’s remember that those moments of petulant rage are decreasing. Should he eradicate that rage from his play style, Smart becomes far less of an influential figure for this team. Alternatively, if he can eliminate the poor decision making on offense, his value can rise even further for what is an offensive juggernaut of a Celtics team.
Smart is the lifeblood of this Boston Celtics team. He may not always perform to the level of his peers or always make the correct choices in the heat of the moment. But the experience is worth every moment. The emotional trauma that The Smart Experience can generate--from distress to euphoria, many times in the same game--embodies the sport we all love so well.
Right now, Smart is the villain of the story, but by tonight, he could be the hero. Enjoy the ride.