After scoring 74 points in the first three quarters, Boston was held scoreless for nearly five minutes to open the final frame that included four early turnovers in Cleveland. With Dennis Schroder flanked by Jabari Parker, Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams, and Romeo Langford nursing a 12-point lead, they continued to challenge the Cavaliers at the rim, but with the 6’11” Evan Mobley protecting the rim, those drives turned into transition opportunities on the other end.
Enter Marcus Smart.
In an effort to slow down the game and Cleveland’s momentum, head coach Ime Udoka put his starting point guard in the post and almost went exclusively to Smart to run the offense. Smart (6’4”, 220 pounds) has a distinct size advantage over Darius Garland (6’1”, 192 pounds) and with the Celtics having such a difficult time generating good looks, it was that mismatch that Boston thought they could hammer over and over again.
On Smart’s first touch on the block, Cleveland decided to double with Cedi Osman leaving Romeo Langford. What playing out of the post does is invert the court and shrink the defense. It changes sight lines, so instead of defenders being able to face up and play between the basket and their man, their attention is drawn into the paint and away from the perimeter.
The Celtics catch the Cavaliers over-rotating and Tatum for an open 3.
Here’s Smart again, now drawing a triple team that includes Mobley and again, Smart kicks it out for a Schroder 3.
On the next trip down, Garland smartly fronts Smart and forces him to face up twenty feet away from the rim. That’s not Smart’s game and he turns it over trying to bully baseline with Mobley converging on him.
Here’s the grift. The Cavaliers had picked up two quick team fouls in the first minute of the fourth and another at the seven-minute mark. Smart drew another on Garland in the post and this one on Ricky Rubio that put Cleveland in the penalty and Smart on the line for two free throws and the lead.
Here’s Smart’s final foray in the post and it’s another playmaking success: a threat to score draws a double, a pass to the perimeter forces the defense to rotate, and an open shot becomes available.
Despite scoring just two points, Smart had one of his best games of the season with eight assists and five steals and he’s been a plus-62 over the last six games since his public comments that shook up the team. Part of Smart’s criticism was that he could take some of the playmaking responsibilities off Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s shoulders.
“When I get in the lane, I’m making it easier on those guys, making it easier for everybody even though my shot’s not on. The threat that I put on teams coming off the screen roll or getting to the basket or even me in the post. Teams aren’t doubling me in the post and if they do, everybody knows I’m a great passer. I’m gonna find guys.” Smart said.