2017 Awards Series Sixth Man of the Year: Marcus Smart
It’s awards season at Celtics.com! We’re handing out six awards over the next few weeks as we roll through this year’s Celtics.com Awards Series. We may not have trophies or acceptance speeches, but we do have some top-flight Celtics performances to outline. Here we go...
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics suffered a number of key injuries over the course of the season, yet they managed to claim the best overall record in the Eastern Conference. It wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for Sixth Man of the Year Marcus Smart.
The third-year guard, who appeared in 97 of Boston’s 100 regular season and playoff games, spent most of the campaign acting as the glue of Boston’s second unit. He was almost always the first player off the bench and led all Celtics reserves in scoring (10.6 points per game), assists (4.6 APG) and minutes (30.4 MPG).
Smart’s greatest contributions, however, didn’t come in the form of traditional statistics. His most appreciable quality was his ability to create winning plays on a nightly basis, whether it was making a key deflection, grabbing an offensive rebound during crunch time, or diving on a loose ball to gain or retain possession.
Brad Stevens often lauded Smart’s hustle; a trait that earned him a number of spot starts over the course of the season. As previously noted, Boston didn’t have the greatest fortune when it came to health this season, particularly with its starting backcourt. Avery Bradley missed 27 games during the regular season due to an Achilles injury, while Isaiah Thomas was sidelined for six regular season games and missed another four postseason games because of various injuries.
This is where Smart’s versatility came into play, as he was able to sub in and play either the 1 or the 2 when needed. He started 24 games during the regular season and made another three starts in the Playoffs.
Smart delivered one of the most inspiring individual performances of the season during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when he guided the Celtics to a massive upset victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Boston was fresh off a 44-point defeat at home during Game 2, when it lost leading scorer Thomas to a season-ending hip injury.
The C’s appeared to be knocking on death’s door as they headed off to the home of the defending champs, but Smart stepped into the starting point guard role and kept their season alive by producing the game of his life.
Boston trailed Cleveland by 21 points with 19 minutes remaining, but the 23-year-old caught fire and led the C’s to a monumental second-half comeback and a 111-108 win. He logged a career-high 27 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals, all while shooting 7-of-10 from 3-point range during the victorious effort.
Boston would end up losing the series in five games, but Smart’s hustle and clutch play during Game 3 allowed the C’s to hold the distinction of being the only Eastern Conference team that earned a postseason win over the Cavs.
Game 3 was a perfect representation of Smart’s value to the club over the course of the 2016-17 season. No, he didn’t always shoot the 3-ball with such precision. He wasn’t a player who consistently scored more than 20 points per game. But Smart could always be relied upon to step up and fill any role when needed. He could always be counted on to lead the second unit and serve as a key, crunch-time contributor with his endless supply of winning plays. Put all of that together, and Smart perfectly exemplified the qualities of the ideal sixth man.