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Marcus Smart: the quintessential Celtic

His hustle and tenacity are irreplaceable.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets
Marcus Smart has never been shy about diving on the floor for a loose ball.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Every so often next year, I plan on carving out time to watch Grizzlies games so I can get my usual “NOOO!...YESSS!” fix when Marcus Smart rises up for a contested, off-balance 3 late in the fourth quarter.

As his career progressed with the Celtics, Smart turned a whole lot of “nos” into “yesses.”

He became a fan favorite because of his relentless hustle, tenacious defense and winning mentality. His contributions off the court are even greater, as he graciously inspired fans and consistently gave back to the community without hesitation.

Smart isn’t a perfect player, but he was a perfect Celtic. He gave everything he had to the franchise, and that’s all anyone can ask for.

In the aftermath of this seismic, blockbuster trade, it’s going to take some time to digest that Smart is no longer in Boston. It just doesn’t feel right that the Celtics are still pursuing that elusive championship without their anchor and vocal leader.

A kid from Texas made Massachusetts his home. He embraced fans calling him “Mahcus Smaht,” endured the cheesy “Smart” puns on billboards around town and handled fans and pundits questioning his value as a point guard like a true professional.

Smart isn’t just a point guard, folks. He’s a hell of a point guard.

Give him credit. He’s always been a skilled passer, but he became an even better one when given the opportunity. He upped his assists average each of the past five seasons – from 4.0 in 2018-19 all the way to 6.3 this year.

He became a better shooter, too. Smart shot as low as 25.3 from 3-point range in his second season and brought that up to 36.4 percent in 2018-19 and 33 percent or higher every year since. Don’t get me wrong, some of those “NOOO” shots just stay on the no side, but his shot selection unquestionably improved.

Defensively, he’s a guru, to say the least – the best Celtic on that side of the ball since Kevin Garnett. The second Celtic to ever win the Defensive Player of the Year award after Garnett did so in 2008. The first guard to win since it Gary Payton in 1996. This was when the rest of the league fully realized what Celtics fans have known all along. He’ll do absolutely anything for his team.

The fans who loved Smart from the jump are waking up, checking Twitter, calling in sick and going back to bed. You can’t blame them. The fans who grew to love him are realizing how much they loved him all along. You can’t blame them, either. The silly fans who never liked him at all are awfully quiet now. You can blame them.

My initial thoughts on this trade are lukewarm at best. Kristaps Porzingis, while undeniably talented, is injury-prone, tends to settle for 3’s and hasn’t done much winning throughout his career (not entirely his fault). If he, Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams are all somehow healthy in the playoffs, then it might work, but I’m not banking on that.

That doesn’t matter at the moment, though. What matters is that the Celtics lost one of the most influential, passionate and relatable players of my lifetime. Whether you like his game or dislike it, you have to respect it.

He earned that respect, every single night, by diving on the floor like his life depended on it. He plays with the confidence of the best player and the complacency of the worst player. That’s a man who loves going to work, takes pride in his work and does his work at a high level. A true Boston guy.

Trust me, you’re going to miss those contested, off-balance 3’s late in the fourth quarter. It won’t be the same without him.

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