The lay of the land has improved dramatically for the Boston Celtics in the last seven weeks. Better team play, Jayson Tatum averaging close to a double-double, generally good health, and a bench unit anchored by Derrick White have all been contributing factors.
Smart’s contribution as starting point guard has always been valuable but these days it’s how he is chipping in that is something to behold.
A constant in Boston Celtics offense
Since returning from injury on January 23, the Boston Celtics are 15-2 with Smart in the lineup. And it’s not only by simply being there that Smart is helping. It’s how the eighth-year guard is going about his business on offense that has stabilized the Celtics.
Smart is showing he can be a consistent factor, sometimes with addition by subtraction.
By that, Smart has played much more of a controlled game in directing the offense. Field goal attempts are more often than not done within the design and flow of the offense. The Celtics have their designated scorers in Tatum (26 ppg and averaging 30 over last five) and Jaylen Brown (23.2 ppg). The last two months, Smart has shown more of a willingness to take a back seat.
That’s not to say, however, that he still can’t score buckets in droves when needed.
Smart is coming off one of his best all-around games in a victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, finishing with 18 points and 12 assists. It was the second time since his January return that Smart had that many assists in a game.
Field goal percentage has been better for Smart, too, since returning after missing two weeks in January. He knocked down 46.2 percent of his attempts in February and currently sits at 41.4 percent. If Smart can continue down that path, it would be only the second time in his career he finished a season better than 40 percent from the field.
There are still struggles with the three-point shot but at least Smart has been more selective. During the 15-2 stretch, he has hit four 3’s or more in a game four times. At 32.5 percent, it’s the lowest Smart has shot from deep since the 2017-18 season. However, he’s averaging one less attempt per game from last season and nearly two attempts less than two seasons ago.
Since the return, Smart is averaging 12.5 points and just over six assists per game.
All that, and Smart is letting it all out on defense, too.
Leading the Boston Celtics on defense
Defense has always been Smart’s forte and it is again shining bright here in 2021-22. He’s averaging 1.7 steals per game, putting him slightly above his career average.
It’s also an energy and intensity he brings to the court that his teammates feed off. The defense of the Celtics is one of the best in the game. Smart leads the charge on this, as he is able to guard almost anyone asked of him to guard by head coach Ime Udoka.
Taking charges and creating turnovers with his pressure are also a key asset of Smart’s. Locking down the perimeter has been a key to Boston’s success. The Celtics are tops in opponent field goal percentage (43) and fifth in three-point percentage (33.7).
In many ways, fans have been waiting for this “complete” Marcus Smart for most of his career. His value, of course, transcends much more of being an improved player on offense. It’s about what he brings to the court on both ends and, in this recent stretch, he’s been invaluable to the nth degree.