When the Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it marked the end of Marcus Smart’s third season with the team. At this point the best word to describe Smart would be an enigma.
Some fans are unsure what to expect from the young guard on a nightly basis, the only constant in his game seems to be the impatience that fans have with him. Smart is the supposed leader of the Celtics second unit, a player who is meant to distribute offensively and do a little bit of everything defensively.
However, at times during the regular season and especially during the playoffs, Smart got a lot of unfair criticism. Sure, he did have some moments that were unwarranted such as giving the finger to a court-side fan during Game 2 at home against Chicago or his 8-turnover performance in Game 3 at Washington. Yet, I believe some fans have focused too much on the negative aspects of Smart’s game.
He is undoubtedly the king of the, “No, no, no, yes” three point shots, and he will occasionally have some bad turnovers. However, forget those for a moment and look at Smart in a different way. He is a 23-year-old player who is already an elite defender and he plays harder than most, if not all, players in the NBA.
Those two reasons, especially the latter, are why every Celtics fan should appreciate Marcus Smart and everything he brings to the table. When discussing the NBA there are certain players who get thrown into the category of an impact that goes beyond the box score. Some of the best examples of those players today are Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green (when he isn’t collecting a triple double), and role players like Joe Ingles of the Utah Jazz.
Smart’s ceiling is being the best player in the NBA for that category of “beyond the box score.” He may never be an all star but that’s okay, the Celtics want titles and every championship team has the ultimate gritty glue player.
There are a few specific instances that illustrate him having the highest motor and impact on winning in the league. The first happened back in October, I watched the Celtics play the Sixers in their first preseason game on their schedule at UMass Amherst. With about five minutes to go in a close game, Smart stripped the ball from a Sixer and laid himself out across the floor after the loose ball. He ultimately won the scramble and gained possession for Boston.
The aspect that really stuck out and still does in my mind was how after he got up and roared in front of the crowd as if it were a Game 7 in the finals. There may not be a single established NBA player — a guy who knows he has a role on his team and is going to be getting 25 minutes or more a night — who would show such intensity and passion for a preseason game against the Sixers in front of a tiny crowd.
NBA players in that position have little to no reason to care about or give a full effort in the preseason, yet Smart was out there playing like it was the most important game of his life. Much of Smart’s game goes unappreciated or unnoticed.
A few more plays that come to mind for me are his high flying offensive rebound against the Bulls earlier this season that led to a Jae Crowder three, the time he dove twice for the ball against Charlotte which sparked a dunk, his winning the loose ball against the Spurs back in 2015 which resulted in a layup for Boston, the rebound over Markieff Morris in this year’s postseason, laying out for the ball Donald Sloan let roll up the court, and the countless number of charges he has taken and crucial fourth quarter rebounds he has collected to help preserve Celtics victories.
Those types of plays are not only the epitome of what being a Celtic is about but they are crucial to helping teams win games. Any player who is willing to sacrifice their body and put the team first should be appreciated.
Aside from Isaiah Thomas, Smart is critical to Boston’s fourth quarter success. Since Smart struggles so mightily with his shooting it shows how impactful he is in other areas such as rebounds, deflections, and hustle. All of which are key components to winning games.
One of the better indicators of Smart’s impact on the Celtics is his plus minus. Most of the time when he is a positive the team wins, and vice-versa for when he is a negative. Statistics such as plus-minus can be deceiving but in the case of Smart he seems to be in good standing often in relation to that statistic.
Smart embodies the tradition of being a Celtic for his hustle and effort. He seems to be the yearly winner of the beloved “Tommy Award” and his hustle earns him praise. He is often thrown under the bus when the team struggles and it is not warranted. It’s not every day a franchise holds a player who can cover anyone from Steph Curry to Paul Millsap but Smart has shown he can.
Every player has their strengths and weakness. Since Smart’s biggest weakness is in an area that is so critical in the modern NBA (3-point shooting) it can drive fans mad. Yet, just watch Smart for a few possessions, more often than not in the fourth quarter, and his impact and effect on winning become clear.
Go up and down every roster in the NBA and I assure you that you would be hard pressed to find someone that brings the toughness, defensive skill, and level of intensity in every and all situations that Smart brings to every single game.
Smart makes winning plays. That is always appreciated here in Boston.