It was a clinical win for the Boston Celtics on Sunday night as they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 141-103. Right out of the gate, the team was locked in and had the intensity turned all the way up. Jaylen Brown led the scoring with 33 points of his own, but it was others who contributed that made it such a dominant performance.
Marcus Smart was instrumental in the win. He ended the night with 12 points, 9 assists, and 5 steals in one of his best overall performances this season. As most of the fan base knows all too well, the Marcus Smart Experience is quite a roller coaster ride at times. He takes shots that are ill-advised followed by a huge defensive play that leads to a fast break transition bucket.
Last night, Smart brought everything together for a perfect combination. He stuck to a more facilitating role getting fancy on the passes and letting the players with the hot hand work. His intensity was contagious throughout the entire team. The Celtics ended the game with 14 steals and created 17 turnovers. It was a complete 180-degree turn from the two games against the Philadelphia 76ers where the Celtics defense was non-existent.
Smart set the tone early. The ball pressure was to a level where the Cavaliers could not create any offense. In the first quarter alone, they shot 26.0% from the field.
Here, Kemba Walker fights through an attempted screen while staying right on Cedi Osman. This then creates the opportunity for Smart to help off his man and strip Osman as he tries to create some kind of offense. It was perfect team defense capped off with a Marcus Smart steal that led to a transition fast break.
After the past two games, there has been some real concerns with the Celtics defense. Smart is one of those players who takes the criticism personally and strives to be better in the next game. He even said in his post-game comments that “it was at our standard. What we’ve been trying to do all year.... For us to come out tonight the way we did on the defensive end, it was tremendous.” He and the team know they have got to get better and play on this type of level each and every game.
That kind of great defense creates the easy chances on offense like this. The easy transition layup all starts from the aggression on the ball trying to create problems for the offense. Andre Drummond puts the ball on the floor and that is a huge opportunity to create a steal. Smart times it perfectly and starts the break.
This performance by Marcus Smart was not just limited to the defensive end of the court. He also contributed with nine assists on the night. That type of output is always massive for his overall development as a player. As mentioned, Smart has a tendency to take over occasionally and take bad shots, however on Sunday night, he was smooth and collected taking a creator-type approach. He was getting fancy and finding his teammates all up and down the floor.
There are some nights where Smart would launch that corner three in this clip without a second thought. His three point shooting has improved over time, but his thought to dribble it in to find a better look is what is crucial about this possession. Smart takes his time, draws Jarrett Allen over, and then gets fancy with the pass to Daniel Theis knocking down the short jumper. This whole possession is what Marcus Smart can continue to improve on.
This mindset of passing first was on display all night long. He found the spot up shooters on the wings and the driving players going to the basket. It was an all-around passing performance for Smart.
Everyone is finally getting healthy. Jayson Tatum is coming back tonight, and it will be the first full starting lineup all season long. Marcus Smart is going to have to continue his level of play with this full healthy starting five. Smart as a playmaker is a much better option for the Celtics than Smart as an isolation shooter. He has to be that 110% effort guy on defense and facilitator on offense. That is the perfect Marcus Smart balance.