Boston Celtics: The Marcus Smart rollercoaster of emotions

Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Michael Jordan once said, “some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” In the ‘winning time’ moments, the special players and the true superstars will always “make it happen.”

In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, one player on the Boston Celtics decided it was his time to “make it happen,” and that player was Marcus Smart.

With a little under three minutes left on the clock, and the Celtics clinging on to an 8-point lead, Smart decided that he would attempt every field goal for the rest of the game. And he missed every single one. At that moment, Celtics fans everywhere were screaming at their televisions, “what the [bleep] are you doing Marcus!!!”

His play during that period undoubtedly allowed the Heat back into the game and gave Jimmy Butler an opportunity to take the lead with 16 seconds left. After Butler’s miss, though, Smart did the Marcus Smart thing again, making two clutch free throws that sealed the game for Boston.

For those who are unaware, that Marc

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us Smart thing is Smart’s singular ability to be, in one moment a player whose jersey should hang in the rafters, while in the next moment being someone you wished had been traded before this year’s trade deadline.

Marcus Smart has polarized Boston Celtics fans for quite some time

Smart is at once a player you’d never want to leave your team and also a player you’d want to send to be some kind of sleeper agent on the Philadelphia 76ers or Los Angeles Lakers who you could say some secret word to and have him brick a wide-open three (if the Celtics don’t win the NBA Finals this year, I really hope Brad Stevens looks into this option).

Looking at statistics alone, Smart is a relatively unimpressive player. For his career, he’s a slightly below-average three-point shooter (.331 compared to .354) and has a below-average eFG percentage (.466 compared to .532).

In the 2021-22 season, his win share was below Tobias Harris and Alec Burks, and his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) was below Malik Monk and Marcus Morris, which is pretty unremarkable company to be in for a player of Smart’s supposed stature.

And while he did come away from this season as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, he did so without being in the top ten in the league for Defensive Win Share or Defensive Box Plus-Minus.

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I’m sure for NBA fans outside of Boston, it’s hard to exactly put your finger on why you want Marcus Smart on your team, and it’s hard for Boston Celtics fans to do the same at times. Unless you’re watching Smart and the Celtics on a night-to-night basis, you probably think Smart is the most overrated player in the NBA.

Smart winning DPOY this season is a great encapsulation of the mystery around Marcus Smart. Despite his ability to switch onto all positions defensively (the “despite” there is doing a lot of work because only a handful of NBA players can do that as competently as Smart does), nothing jumps out to you in the aggregate about Smart’s defensive prowess.

He won the award without even being, from a statistical standpoint, the best defender on his team (Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams both had better DWS and DBPM numbers than Smart). But Marcus Smart is, probably above any player in the NBA, someone you need to watch on a regular basis to understand his unique talent and genius.

By just looking at box scores and Basketball Reference you miss the game-to-game guidance and leadership Smart brings as the de-facto captain of this Boston Celtics squad. His genius is in the intangibles. In the constant grit and hustle, diving for loose balls, fighting for rebounds, angling for a charge call at every opportunity.

You have to live with the ill-advised three-point shots, the occasional boneheaded turnover, and his general chaotic playstyle to get to the magical moments that make him who he is, like when he walked back on the court from an injury in this year’s ECF to drain a step back three, or my personal favorite Smart moment, when he sealed a 2017 victory over the Houston Rockets by drawing two charges on James Harden late in the game.

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Every time you think Smart is costing the Celtics a game with some dumb attempt at hero-ball, think about everything he did to get the Celtics to where they are, fighting for Banner 18 in the NBA Finals. With Marcus Smart, you have to stick with him at his worst to have him at his best.