The Boston Celtics basketball machine just keeps on churning out wins. With the calendar flipping from November to December, they faced down a busy four-game week and walked away with a 3-1 record, recording wins over the Hornets, Heat and Nets. Their only blemish came against the Heat, as they dropped their second matchup in three days against Miami in overtime on Friday, 120-116 — a forgivable loss, as beating any team twice in a row is difficult, especially when they’re coached by Erik Spoelstra.
The Celtics maintained the best record (and best offense) in basketball this week. So who were the standouts for the NBA’s frontrunners? Let’s get started with the runners-up.
Headlining this category is, of course, Jayson Tatum. It’s pretty straightforward: you score 49 points in a game, you get some Player of the Week love by default. But an exciting start to the week (84 points in the first two games) gave way to a couple lackluster outings. He had an off night in the overtime loss in the Miami rematch, shooting just 5-of-18 from the floor, and a better shooting line against Brooklyn belied some uncharacteristically sloppy play (nine turnovers).
Elsewhere, Jaylen Brown had a nice little week, averaging 32 points per game on 52% shooting from the field across the latter three games (after missing the Hornets blowout due to injury). He just keeps on scoring, with his season average ticking up over the 27 PPG mark as he chases a spot on an All-NBA team — and the supermax contract that would follow.
Malcolm Brogdon had a couple 20-point performances, and now leads all qualified shooters in three-point percentage (49.4%), and Derrick White continues to make plays as the team’s fifth starter at present.
Shout-out to Blake Griffin for a fun little spot-start against the Hornets, by the way. He dunked! Twice!
Anyways, on to our winner.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #7: Marcus Smart
3 GP, 36 MPG, 16.7 PPG (59% FG, 47% 3PT), 11 APG, 1.7 SPG, +64
We love him and we trust him, don’t we, folks?
You could honestly call this a toss-up between Smart and Brown, I think, especially given that neither player appeared in all four games. I wouldn’t argue with you either way. We’re going with Smart this time, though, so we get our first opportunity to talk about him in this space. Look at that stat line!
The discourse surrounding Smart and the Celtics’ need for a “true point guard” has been misguided for a few seasons now, but if that narrative had any legs left beneath it, this season has swept them away. Smart has been the perfect starting point guard for this roster all season long, puppeteering the offense with some of the very best decision-making of his career. As of this writing, his 7.6 assists per game have him seventh in the NBA, just 0.1 short of fifth place Darius Garland and Russell Westbrook.
There’s been no better example of Smart’s excellence as a floor general than Monday’s romp over the Hornets — a game in which he dished nine dimes in the fourth quarter and a career-high 15 on the night, despite sitting the entire fourth quarter. He’s making every read this season, from the simple to the extravagant.
We have to talk about the shooting, too. No honest conversation about Smart is complete without it. Early in his career, he built a deserved reputation as a patently terrible shooter, connecting on just 29% of his three-point attempts on more than four attempts per game across his first four NBA seasons. His 25% three-point mark in the 2015-16 season is one of the worst shooting seasons in NBA history (non-Russell Westbrook division, at least).
That reputation hasn’t been the reality in some time, though. Since the start of the 2018-19 season, he’s been a 34% shooter from deep on healthy volume. That’s not a mark that will blow anyone away, but it’s just a shade below league average over that span of time (it’s hovered around the high-35% range). He’s remade himself into a deep threat that defenses have to respect — a far cry from the “one of the most harmful shooters of all time” status he flirted with early in his career.
The shot selection is as good as it’s ever been, particularly when it comes to pull-up jumpers, which he’s been firing at career-low rates over the past two seasons (15.6% last year, 17.5% so far this year). The 1-for-7 nights from deep (his shot line in the Miami loss) will never fully go away — they’re part and parcel for any middling shooter with meaningful volume — but the totality of his offensive game has made him an essential component of Joe Mazzulla’s offense.
And when he’s on, he’s on. That career-best assist mark against Charlotte came with a season-best 6-of-9 shooting from behind the arc, adding up to his best overall offensive performance of the season to this point.
The Boston defense has sputtered at times, lagging behind their league-best form of last season. They rank just 15th in the league in defensive rating for the season. Smart himself may not quite be at his Defensive Player of the Year form of a year ago, but he’s still a highly effective and versatile defender. His 1.7 steals per game this week were right in line with his season average from last year. Maintaining an uptick in forced turnovers (as well as deflections — he’s averaging a career-low 1.7 per game) would go a long way in helping to stabilize the Celtics on the defensive end of the floor.
Moving forward, we’re back to a three-game slate this week. The Celtics kicked off the week with a hard-fought win over the Toronto Raptors on the second night of a back-to-back, and after a much-needed day of rest, they’re taking flight for the West Coast. Two high-profile matchups loom: a Wednesday ESPN battle against the Western Conference-leading Phoenix Suns, and an NBA Finals rematch against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. Who will step up under the bright lights this week? We’ll be back next week to discuss.