clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Marcus Smart: ‘when our shots don’t fall and our defense isn’t where it’s at, we’re in trouble”

Marcus Smart talked about the Celtics’ defense and building sandcastles after a big road win in Memphis.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

In a thrilling 109-106 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, the Boston Celtics pulled off their seventh win of the season in arguably one of their toughest matchups. Boston turned up the defensive intensity as needed, and while Jayson Tatum led all scorers with an impressive 39-point performance, defensive stalwart Marcus Smart helped establish the offense and set the table for his teammates, scoring 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting along with 7 rebounds and a game-high 12 assists.

Ultimately, it was the team’s defense that sealed the win way after surviving a late push, as the game felt eerily similar to some of the late-game collapses during last season.

“It’s going to come a time where our shots aren’t falling and our defense is going to need to stay where it’s at,” said Marcus Smart on Boston’s win. “When you got a good defense and and you’re executing on the defensive end — you’re locked in, you’re communicating, you’re focused on the defensive end — when your shots don’t fall, your defense helps that.”

Boston is all too familiar with games where that hasn’t been the case, and Smart and the team are aware of that. “For us, when our shots don’t fall and our defense isn’t where it’s at, we’re in trouble,” said Smart, “Just like last year, we have to [hang] our hat on the defensive end because those are the times and that’s the end where we’re going to win games.” Ime Udoka preached these principles to the team last year as the Celtics morphed into a defensive juggernaut, so it’s encouraging to see the reigning Defensive Player of the Year echoing the same sentiment once more.

After a strong season last year, the Celtics are trying to recapture that same defensive pressure that was their identity last season. “We’re figuring it out,” said Smart of the team’s defensive improvements so far this season. “We’ve got everybody playing different positions. We had Grant Williams guarding Ja Morant tonight — think about we’re still figuring out things, positions, where to be when the switch and things like that but we’re figuring it. We’re finding ways to win games, we’re finding ways to hold up the runs that teams make against us, and that’s something we got to continue to work on.”

With Joe Mazzulla at the helm, the defensive goals are still the same, but Mazzulla is using a unique way to describe the Celtics establishing their principles on a night-to-night basis. “Joe always talks about ‘building the sandcastle,’” said Smart. “That was one of those things, and every day we’ve got to come build our sandcastle, and it starts on the defensive end.”

Opponent scoring comes in waves, and it’s all about the team surviving each game and replicating their work the next time. What happens when they get knocked over? “It’s okay, it’s all right,” said Smart on the analogy. “You start it right back up, they fall and you do it all over again. That’s the beauty of it.” Boston’s ability to switch was a massive part of the team’s success last season, and over the past few games they’ve gotten back to switching more frequently.

“That’s the thing about this team,” said Smart. “We’re so versatile in those positions that you know really who you put out there is out there, and they know every position, and they know exactly what they’re doing and they fit the team. So like I said, it’s a very unorthodox way we play. You got your point guard on your five man, you got your five man on the two guard, you got your four man on the one... it’s very unorthodox, and that’s what makes it work because we’re so good at communicating with each other and playing off one another on the defensive end that it doesn’t really matter who’s out there.”

Communication on defense has also made a big impact on Boston’s effectiveness as a unit, and Smart said as much. “For us, that’s what it’s all about. Joe’s been preaching to us, we’ve been preaching to each other. We’ve been doing a lot of work talking, talking things out, things we like, things we don’t like, things we see and some things that we don’t see individually. So, it’s good for us to have these type of games, especially early and test us early, and allow us to get different looks and know how to come at it when we get down the road.”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Celtics Blog Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Boston Celtics news from Celtics Blog