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Danny Ainge: Marcus Smart “is the heart and soul of our team”

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The Celtics president of basketball operations turned his weekly appearance on The SportsHub into The Defending Marcus Smart Radio Hour.

2019 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Training Camp - Los Angeles Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

During his weekly visit on 98.5 The SportsHub’s Toucher & Rich Show, Danny Ainge used a bulk of his interview time to defend Marcus Smart. Smart was suspended for yesterday’s game against the Hornets for having a postgame interaction with an official after a disappointing loss to the Thunder on Tuesday.

“Marcus is just an emotional kid. He plays with his emotions on his sleeve and he was very frustrated with a couple of calls that I thought he should have been frustrated with. Ideally, we don’t want him having conversations with the officials postgame as they’re leaving the court,” Ainge said of Smart’s interaction with the refs.

Smart left that game with six fouls. Paired with a 4-for-17 shooting night with three turnovers, it was one of his worst performances of the year, but the Celtics president of basketball operations remains undeterred with his support for the unofficial captain of the team.

“Marcus has grown a lot. He’s been fantastic the last few weeks actually and showing some leadership. I’m not gonna make a bigger deal out of this than it is,” Ainge said. “It’s another learning lesson for Marcus, but he’s doing much better as a leader and inspiring his teammates on the court and that’s what’s important.”

Ainge also bristled at the idea that Smart has regressed this season.

“Marcus has had ups and downs like so many of our guys on the team for lots of different reasons. He missed twenty games with a calf injury. It just takes time when you come back and you’re not playing, especially in the world where we don’t practice. I’m not really holding any of that against Marcus, but I really believe that over the last few weeks, except for the game (against the Thunder) the other night where he struggled to making shots—we need him to make shots and he didn’t but that happens to every good player—Marcus has been huge for us. So, I agree, he is the heart and soul of our team and he plays with great passion and intensity and I don’t think he’s regressed other than the regression that’s happened from his health and his injuries.”

Statistically for the year, Smart is actually having a career year in some categories. His 13.6 points and 5.5 assists per game are the highest in his seven-year career in Boston. His 40.4% field goal percentage is only second to his 2018-2019 season.

And when asked if Smart’s defensive intensity is that same in years’ past, Ainge soundly replied, “in the last few weeks when he’s gotten healthy, absolutely.”

Earlier in the month, the two-time All-Defense First Teamer responded to some of his critics on CLNS’ The Garden Report, saying, “all of them don’t think I’m a great defender, so I’ve just been coming out every game trying to prove and let them know that I’m still first team two years in a row running.”