Another week of Boston Celtics basketball is in the books, which means we’re back once more with the second installment of CelticsBlog’s Player of the Week award. Last week saw Robert Williams III take home the inaugural hardware after a 2-1 week in which he dominated nearly every facet of an NBA stat sheet, and after a particularly successful week of play from the squad, we have some very interesting options for who could follow him up.
This week was slightly busier, as the Celtics faced down four Eastern Conference matchups, with two of specific importance. They won all four games, opening the week with a home win over the top-seeded Miami Heat on Monday night, then defeating the fellow Eastern Conference playoff hopeful Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, before recording comfortable wins over the bottom-feeding Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic. So, in what was likely the best week of Boston’s season so far, who stood out?
Let’s reiterate the obligatory disclaimer here. As with last week, we have to note that “Player of the Week” does not necessarily translate to “Best Player of the Week.” The idea of this award is to highlight difference-makers from the past week’s games, and to be honest, a strict focus on “best” would lead to this award pinballing back and forth between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They’re the team’s star players, and the most important and impactful players on the court even on their worst shooting nights.
Repeatedly writing about those two, while deserved, would be just a little bit less fun. For that reason, we’re going to broaden our standards a little bit to introduce a little more diversity in the results. Ask yourself: who was The Guy last week? That’s the kind of loose criteria we’re going to operate around.
With that in mind, let’s talk about The Guy in question this week.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #2: Marcus Smart
4 GP, 111 MP, 11.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 60% FG%, +45
Having posted a sterling 4-0 record last week, the Celtics are currently riding a 12-4 wave, and inching their way up the Eastern Conference standings. There’s one common denominator in all these recent wins: defense. I’ll let Ime Udoka sum it up for you, with this quote after Sunday night’s win over the Magic: “[Our defense] is suffocating at times. We’ve got big wings, versatile bigs and a pitbull of a point guard.”
A pitbull of a point guard. Apologies to Jayson Tatum (absolutely slinging the ball as a playmaker right now) and Josh Richardson (erupted for 23 points and six threes in an important win over the Hornets) but that pitbull point guard is our guy this time around. It may not be a week for people who love counting stats, but Marcus Smart has been doing a little bit of everything for this Celtics team lately, and as a result, it was hard to pick anyone else.
The focus is, rightfully, on the defense, but Smart actually kicked off the week with a pair of great scoring performances, as well. In Monday’s win over the Miami Heat, he recorded 16 points, four made threes and seven assists, and two nights later, he put up 22 points and six assists in the win over Charlotte. The Celtics also held Miami and Charlotte to 92 and 107 points, respectively, and unsurprisingly, Smart was crucial to those defensive efforts.
These are the games that most directly won Smart this award, being without question the most impactful matchups the Celtics faced this past week. As of this writing, the Heat are the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but the Celtics’ surge has — almost inconceivably — put them just 4.5 games out from the conference lead. Meanwhile, the Hornets have been one of Boston’s most direct playoff competitors, and sat ever so slightly higher than the Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings at the time of their matchup.
By the numbers, Smart’s contributions against Detroit and Orlando — the two worst teams in basketball, by record — were a little more modest. Apart from a garbage-time hiccup from the Celtics’ bench against the Pistons, both games were relatively straightforward affairs, and Smart was content to blend into the background as a result. Between the two, he compiled nine points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, a block and two steals.
This was simply a great week for highlighting the value Smart brings to this team. He’s one of the best defenders at the guard position in the NBA, combined with terrific awareness as a playmaker. When he’s scoring effectively at lower usage, as he did against Miami and Charlotte, he’s practically the platonic ideal of a playmaking guard in a lineup alongside the Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
And, as the games against Detroit and Orlando demonstrated, he doesn’t need to be a focal point to be dialed in. He took just eight shot attempts combined between the two games, instead making an impact with his defense and passing. This was a remarkable week for Marcus Smart — a continuation of very strong play since his return to the lineup against Washington on January 23 — and he was well deserving of recognition.
If we’re being honest, you could take a dozen of Marcus Smart’s defensive plays from the past week and put them on a wheel, spin it, and come away with a deserving choice. I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t at least a small part of me that wants to make these Player of the Week choices based on who has the coolest highlights to watch. For now, though, I can assure you it’s just a coincidence that our first two Player of the Week winners are also my favorite players to watch film of.
That said, the block on Kelly Oubre in the Hornets game is hard to deny. This is a really cool highlight.
Oubre pokes the ball away from Brown off a drive and streaks downcourt, in a situation the up-tempo Charlotte offense thrives upon. But Smart already sees it — he’s chasing Oubre before the loose ball scrum has even fully resolved.
The Hornets claim possession and get the requisite pass ahead to Oubre. The result is something akin to a horror movie. Oubre gets ahold of the ball and surges towards the rim, but Smart is bearing down on him — Michael Myers, fully aware that his prey has already fallen right into his arms.
Smart speeds ahead of Oubre during his gather, and Oubre attempts to contort and lay the ball in around Smart’s arms. No such luck. There isn’t much you can really do when a guy records a clean block in this position. Remarkable body control, and a terrific defensive highlight.
So that concludes our second installment of CelticsBlog’s Player of the Week. As always, we’re interested to hear your thoughts — who did you think should have taken home the hardware this past week, and who do you think will be up next? Let us know in the comments and we’ll be back with the next installment on Monday.