After talking the talk, Marcus Smart has been walking the walk.
Whether his now infamous postgame presser was the catalyst for the subsequent players-only meeting/gathering/team dinner that has fueled the Celtics turnaround over the last ten games is debatable. However, what’s not in question is Smart’s understated commitment to his role.
Since meeting with the media after that loss to the Bulls, Smart has rarely spoken before or after games. In a brief availability after Boston avenged an earlier blowout at the hands of the Raptors, Smart deflected any discussion about his comments or its perceived repercussions. Instead, he used “we,” “us,” and “our team” and to that point, the Celtics longest tenured player has quietly done the blue collar work that has made him such a beloved figure in Boston.
The numbers don’t jump off the page. Ten points and five assists are subpar for any starting point guard in the NBA, not to mention that he’s shooting 38% from the field and making just over a quarter of his 3-pointers.
But since Smartgate, he’s embraced his role as a wrecking ball point guard. He doesn’t exactly fit the point guard archetypes of a pass-first or a scoring PG, but he’s effectively found the middle ground and become a key cog in the offense. His numbers are improving in all categories: increased assists from 4 to 6 per game, decreased turnovers from 2.2 to 1.5 a night, and driving more from 6.7 to 10.9.
His shooting hasn’t exactly found its level yet, but there are signs that he’s been more judicious with his shot selection and decision making, too. Before November 2nd, Smart was averaging 9.7 field goal attempts per game and making just 29.3% (6.5 threes at 28.2%); over the last ten games, he’s tapered his shots to 9.1 a game at a 42.9% clip and reduced his threes to 3.8 a night (23.5 3FG%).
They’re all minor trims, but in totality, it’s Smart being, well, smart. It’s been a process that he’s lead by example and has started taking shape with the rest of the team. “New coach, relatively new team, new roles, guys doing new things, trying to get that chemistry together on both ends within the players and coaches, the coaches amongst themselves, the players amongst themselves,” Smart said after scoring a season-high 22 points in a crushing defeat of the rival Lakers.
“We’re human. Things aren’t going to go as perfectly as we planned, but it’s what you do when things go that way that you don’t think it should go and how you react to it. I think we’ve been reacting very well. We had some turmoil early on — that’s part of it.”
During training camp, Udoka planned on naming two team captains before the season started. Those plans fell to the wayside for several reasons, but it's hard not to think Smart wasn't on the short list and isn't already one of the guiding voices behind the scenes.