The Boston Celtics have been one of the most impacted teams by injuries and COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The team has only had a handful of games with the starting five at full strength this season, in large part due to Marcus Smart’s 18-game absence. His importance to everything he does for the Celtics was on full display Sunday night against the Rockets. Marcus Smart may have only finished the game with only 5 points and 3 assists, however his impact was felt on the court each minute he played.
Once Smart checked in, the offense was more lively with the ball swinging around more, and on defense, there is more communication and a sense of grit with everyone on the floor. He brings the energy that is contagious and spreads throughout the roster. The mood instantly changed for the Celtics and started fighting back. He recorded his five points in that first quarter giving the important spark. Specifically against the Rockets, Smart checked in (with Robert Williams) and the defense settled down and created stops which then the offense built off of to grow the lead.
Smart can often spark comebacks, but he can also steady the team when they need it the most.
This is what you do not get see the morning after the game checking the box score. The Celtics beat a struggling Rockets team in easy fashion. However, it was this Marcus Smart play that set up the rest of the game. On the next possession, he came down and drills a three. Now, instead of down nine early, the Celtics are only down 4 and on a run to get back in the game early.
Also, there were multiple times against the Rockets--and also the first game back against the Nets--Smart made that extra high basketball IQ move to free up an open shooter. He brings that next dimension to Celtics offensive possessions that was just lacking with other bench players on the court.
Here, he looks to free up Jaylen Brown around the three-point arc after the defender was trailing far behind him. Smart realizes this and dumps it off then sets up a screen for Jaylen to have an uncontested three.
In his absence, the offense has been stagnant with isolation basketball. That is why it is so important to have a pass first-type player back in the fold. The “hockey assists” become more prevalent and the whole roster contributes in the scoring.
Marcus Smart has the option to make a tough shot near the rim. Instead, he finds Carsen Edwards back up top which subsequently forces the Rockets to rotate defensively again. It throws off everyone and gives Edwards the chance to drive in. Again, Edwards could even throw up a runner there but chooses the lob to Rob for an even easier two. These great plays build over time and give confidence to the bench unit.
All in all, the Celtics have desperately missed Marcus Smart. He is the heartbeat of this team that gives the team multiple ways to win outside of what can be tracked in the box score. It is what the Celtics needed, and they will be glad to have him back as they continue the second half of the season.