Smart Looking Forward to Another Battle vs. Harden
WALTHAM, Mass. - Rockets guard James Harden is flying high after delivering the nastiest crossover move of his career Wednesday night, but Celtics guard Marcus Smart hopes to bring him back down to Earth when they square off this weekend.
Smart was one of millions of viewers that watched the clip of Harden dropping Clippers forward Wesley Johnson to the floor like a sack of potatoes, before stepping back, staring Johnson down and drilling a wide-open 3-pointer to highlight the Rockets' 105-92 win over LA.
One would think that seeing the jaw-dropping play would intimidate Harden's next opponent, but that wasn't the case for Smart. Instead, Smart became excited, because now he has the opportunity to make another mark against one of the greatest offensive weapons the NBA has ever seen.
"It's incredible, the way he scores the ball and the way he's an offensive threat," Smart said after practice Thursday afternoon as he looked ahead to Saturday's matchup in Houston. "He makes it hard on the defense and it's a challenge that I love. He's definitely going to challenge me, so I'm looking forward to it."
As much of a challenge as it is to guard the league-leading scorer, it will be just as difficult on Harden to get past the Celtics' top perimeter defender.
Smart dominated the last battle against Harden on Dec. 27 in Boston. Harden shot 0-for-7 and committed four turnovers while being guarded by Smart. He also committed two charging fouls against Smart during the closing moments of the game to help the Celtics pull off a 26-point comeback win.
Smart's approach will not change Saturday night in a highly-anticipated rematch on the road.
"You just try to wear him down," said Smart. "You stay on him and make every shot that he takes tough. He's going to make some tough shots, but he's not going to make enough. And eventually if you contest enough shots and make him work for it, in the fourth quarter those shots will become harder."
As confident as Smart is heading into this matchup, he's also taking a realistic approach. He knows that Harden will get his buckets just as he does every game. And coach Brad Stevens understands that as well. The key is not necessarily to stop Harden, but to simply slow him down and make things as difficult on him as possible.
"I don't even care about numbers," Stevens said in regard to Harden's scoring total. "I think it's about efficiency and it's about how hard you make it. There are going to be times where guys like that, you can guard great and they go off. There are times when the great, great offensive players in this league can outdo the great defensive possessions."
That's why Stevens will rely on more than just Smart to take on the Harden challenge. The coach will throw multiple looks at the talented guard in order to keep him on his toes.
"James' abilities to score from behind the arc, drive the ball and get to the foul line - he's as good as anybody," said Stevens. "So, you can't count on one guy to have to do that. You have to throw as many bodies on him as possible."
With that being said, there's no doubt that Smart will be the main guy that the Celtics count on to try to slow Harden down. And that's the type of assignment that Smart lives for.
"I love it," said the eager, 23-year-old guard. "It's an opportunity for me to challenge myself on the defensive end. And each and every day I'm up for those types of challenges."
Smart will be on his A-game Saturday night, but Harden will be as well. The Rockets guard will certainly be vying for revenge after the way their last meeting shook out.
Harden may even attempt to put Smart on a viral highlight reel, just like he did with Johnson Wednesday night. However, try as he might, the only way that Harden will likely be able to drop Smart to the floor is by way of another charge.