BOSTON – The Boston Celtics welcomed the Charlotte Hornets to town on Monday night before swiftly pushing them out the exit via a 140-105 blowout. And for such a dominant win, there were plenty of storylines to follow.
Luke Kornet paid homage to Stromile Swift with a celebration, Blake Griffin turned back the clock with a monster alley-oop slam, and Jayson Tatum put up 35 points while only taking one free throw. Plus, Boston’s offense had 121 points through three quarters.
Amidst all the madness, Marcus Smart set a career-high in assists with 15 in just three quarters of action, as Joe Mazzulla decided to bench him for the final frame.
After the contest, Mazzulla spoke about Smart’s development as a passer over the years, noting that he trusts him to run the offense and that he’s “seeing the possession before it happens” this season.
“Yeah, I mean, he’s always brought it defensively. I think this year, his ability to see the matchups, see the possession before it happens, and then using our playbook to use the matchup to figure out what he wants to run. And so, I have full trust in him in, you know, diagnosing where the matchup is, where the advantage is, and what play call can we call to exploit that. He’s doing a great job of anticipating that once he gets the ball, and he’s also doing a great job of pushing the pace.”
Eight of Smart’s 15 assists came in the first quarter alone, as the Celtics ended the first with a whopping 45 points. He led the way for them to put up 40 assists as a team, which is the first time they’ve reached that mark since December of 2008.
The veteran guard also had 22 points against the Hornets on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and 6-of-9 shooting from three-point range.
Last year was the first season Smart had the opportunity to be Boston’s full-time point guard, and he helped lead them to the NBA Finals. This year, he’s putting up the best passing numbers of his career.
Smart said that he’s seeing the floor with “x-ray vision” when asked about his career-high mark.
“With x-ray vision. Trying to at least. Trying to get everybody the ball at the right time. Where they need it, want it, where they like it… Just trying to get us easy basket. When that happens, people’s confidence goes up… We got a lot of great players, so for me to be able to just find them, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
With his 15 dimes against the Hornets, Smart’s average on the season inched closer to eight per game. So far this year, he’s putting up 11.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 7.5 assists on 44.1% shooting from the field and 35.1% shooting from three-point land.
But if you take a look at his recent play, the stats pop out even more. Over his last three games, Smart is averaging 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 9.0 assists on red-hot efficiency. He’s shooting 56.5% from the floor and 50.0% from deep on 5.3 three-point attempts per game.
The Celtics’ offense has been scorching this year, and Smart had nothing but praise for their play on that end thus far.
“Spectacular. We all understand that Charlotte had a lot of guys out. We had some guys out, too. Tonight, for us, we just wanted to come in and focus on us. Building great habits, no matter the team, no matter who we have on the court, who’s playing that night, no matter the score, we want to continue to play the right way.”
Boston’s 140-point performance was their highest total of the season, their fourth time cracking 130 points, and their 13th time breaking 120. It was a dominant display of offense that saw them shoot 55-for-93 (59.1%) from the field and 24-for-52 (46.2%) from deep.
But most importantly, this Celtics team seems to be having fun. Smart threw a lob to Kornet in the middle of the third quarter, leading to a fun, butterfly-hands celebration that quickly went viral on Celtics Twitter.
This Celtics team is having fun, and Smart said that it starts off the court.
“It starts in the locker room. Not saying that last year we didn’t have it. But, you know, we just added more of that joy. Everybody coming in with a positive attitude. And if it’s not positive, you see your teammate or to coaching staff down, you probably think they can’t tell, you know, raise that for them. When you got a team that’s doing that and are happy to be around each other and happy to come into work everyday, you get the result on the court with what we’re doing and having fun with it.”