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The first Marcus Smart game of the year

After battling illness all year, Smart had his breakthrough performance in Charlotte.

Boston Celtics v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

“A dog,” Robert Williams said, describing Marcus Smart.

“The heart and soul of the team,” said head coach Ime Udoka.

For fans of Smart, it has been obvious there was something off with the longest standing Celtic. For the last seven seasons, we’ve come to expect his no holds barred, pedal to the metal approach to the game. But since the start of the season, he’s seemed, well, invisible at times and that’s not Marcus Smart. He’s averaging just 7.5 points per game and shooting 27.5% from the field. Beyond the numbers, his winning plays just aren’t there. In the past, you could expect that extra 10% to push the team over the top. After the Celtics pulled out an overtime win against the previously undefeated Hornets last night, we got a sense of what Smart has been dealing with over the last few days.

For the last week, Smart has been battling flu-like symptoms. He’s dealt with migraines and body aches and threw up yesterday morning before the game. With blurry vision, a headache, and an upset stomach, he fought through it. His numbers against Charlotte reflect a player just trying to gut through an overtime slog: 3-for-12 from the floor, 1-for-9 from behind the arc for seven points and five assists. But like we all know about Smart, it’s all the little things he does on the court, particularly in a close battle like last night, that add up to winning plays.

“He got some decent looks and missed them, but he impacts the game in other ways,” said Udoka. “ I said it to the group, ‘I don’t care about the 41 (from Tatum) or the 30 (from Brown) from you guys. Marcus is the Player of the Game,’ taking that last shot away from them. He does all the little things, switching on to LaMelo and guarding some of those guys well. He does so much that doesn’t show up in the box score, but we know the toughness, the heart and soul of the team comes from him.”

With the Celtics down five and just over two minutes to go in regulation, it was Smart with the heads up outlet pass to a streaking Jaylen Brown. On Charlotte’s final play of regulation, it was Smart that stripped LaMelo Ball on the inbound pass to extend the game into overtime. On Brown’s monster dunk over Miles Bridges to give the Celtic a five-point lead in OT, it was Smart boxing out Miles Plumlee for the rebound and outlet tip. With the Hornets needing a bucket with a minute left in the game, Ball committed an offensive foul on an out of bounds ATO. Guess who drew it. Smart.

“Marcus Smart was terrific by the way, especially at the end of the game. He may not get credit for having a great game, but defensively he definitely won that game for us,” Brown said of Smart’s unsung heroics.

To date, the Celtics have yet to name a team captain. In training camp, Udoka said that the team would elect two for the season, but that’s yet to happen. However, it was Smart who welcomed and thanked the TD Garden crowd on Opening Night and it was Smart last night whom his teammates identified as the catalyst for their comeback win. It’s unclear whether Udoka will still name one or more captains, but it’s obvious who wears the “C” in the locker room.

“When I was younger, I used to be told, ‘If you’re going to get out there and play, you can’t make excuses. You gotta go out there and do it.’ I chose to play instead of sitting out. It wasn’t pretty — not every game is going to be pretty — but you gotta find a way,” Smart said.

That’s the Marcus Smart we love and trust.