It is understood that NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chen pulled Marcus Smart for a post-game interview on Wednesday night. While not scoring the highest in points – or anything, for that matter – he was undoubtedly the most influential player in the Celtics’ 110-88 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
If this is a numerical stat that is measured regularly, Smart could lead the league. It’s a nuisance, and not everyone in the green and white uniform knows (and hates) it. Chen probably had a question about this lingering effect. But when Jason Tatum interrupted her conversation with his teammate, he did his best to ask any questions for comfort.
“This is the best defensive player of the year,” Tatum said. “I know they’ve been big guys lately and all that, but they have to get back into the guards. This is my best defensive player of the year here.”
Chen no doubt knows that’s true, or at least a serious possibility, as anyone who’s watched Celtics basketball since the top of the year should have. Their career as the best defensive team in the league is not possible without Smart Play. He is Boston’s anchor, through and through, from a vital and defensive standpoint. Thanks in large part to his perseverance and his crude penchant for being a nuisance, beginners in Celtics only allow 93.8 points per 100 possessions, per glass clean. That’s 18 points below the league’s average offensive rating of 111.3. This does not happen without SMART. He knows her better than anyone else.
“I think my game speaks for itself,” He said over the weekend. “You put me in front of anyone, and I promise it will be a fight and I promise they don’t want to see me in front of them.”
But we have known this for some time. Perhaps there is no better defensive goalkeeper in the league than Smart, and there is almost certainly no one who works as hard and plays consistently as they do on the defensive end. Granted or not, the NBA and its viewers know it’s realistic. So did Smart, who backed her up saying, “I play to win matches, that’s my job. Whatever comes with it, I’m lucky to have it.”
And the Celtics win games thanks to Smart, but not only because of his defense. What has not caught the eye is his attacking ability, which has steadily improved over the course of his career and has reached new heights at various points throughout this season. He was no longer just someone the opponents did not want to see in front of them in defense; He had become a serious threat to the other party as well.
By the looks of it, Season Smart has been running the factory to its standards. He averaged 12.2 points, 5.7 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game. He has steadily improved as an offensive player, but for an intelligence, steady improvement always means finding consistency. Over the past three seasons, he’s done just that – keeping his averages, never going above or letting them down, and constantly exercising his active presence on both ends.
But you can’t talk about Boston’s season without discussing the fact that there are basically two of them. Boston flipped its script after a shaky start to the year. The same must be said about its players. Just as Tatum seemed unstoppable since breaking the All-Star, Smart looked like an evolving version of himself on the offensive end. In the 10 games since the break, Smart has averaged 15 points, stayed above seven assists, and touched under four boards.
His 47-44-92 shot splits are, in a word, ridiculous. He maintained an average plus-minus of 5.3 during that time but had a positive differential of 10 or more in five of those 10 games. The Celtics are 8-2 in this stretch, and are dominant in those eight wins. Smart has been an integral part of this effort.
In the win over the Warriors, Boston’s sixth out of seven, Smart was an electrician. He earned 20 points on 8-of-12 shots (67 percent) – knocking down four of his seven threes as a local – and made eight assists.
Among what was shown? Rapid trigger has increasingly depth. Smart was never a gritty shooter, but now he has the consistency to back up his gallbladder. He shoots (and nails) more than three times a quick shoot, and many of them come with a hand in the face.
This season, the majority of Smart’s shots (38.5 percent) have come with a defender who’s hotly contested, according to NBA Advanced Stats. In this case, he earns 51.4 percent of his praise, shooting 48.9 percent of the field overall. It wasn’t this accurate before.
On screen, too, his savvy score cuts off his dribbling, whether he’s advancing from mid-range or driving into the pit for a tough finish. Fired 80 percent in paint. Robert Williams III is probably – or surely – one of his proud teammates.
Cherry above all? Game. Smart’s eight assists marked the 12th time this season that he had found a teammate to score eight or more times in a single game. It has become so routine for him, that he can point to square dots at square dots when fans or the media question whether or not Boston has a proper staging point guard in the building.
“I don’t need that [say anything about my point guard play]SMART game postgame said. “I’ll let my game say, ‘I told you so.’ I’m just doing what I need to do to help us win. I don’t need to say anything.”
It’s ironic, agreeing with Smart’s statement, but writing over 1,000 words about his game – the one you need not mention and you would be better off washing (or crashing) over you like a 1,000-foot wave. Because no matter how many descriptors of his play I try to conjure up, it’s still impossible to properly define a Smart Game. It’s hard not to focus too heavily on defense as it relates to intelligence when a guy averages five steals and deflects per game combined and is a top 10 in both categories, on the second spectrum. However, all I want to do is point out how brilliant he is playing on the other end.
This is probably because I’ve become familiar with Smart Defense over the years, and thus benefited from it, even if I did it unintentionally. Maybe this season I’m trying to make sure I don’t do the same with his offensive game. So, for sure, I’ll let him remain silent about his abilities. I couldn’t think of doing the same.