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Celtics Look Back on Smart’s Impact Ahead of TD Garden Return

BOSTON – Marcus Smart will be welcomed back to Boston Sunday evening for the first time since being traded to Memphis last June.

Although he won’t be able to play, as he’s recovering from a right ring finger injury, Smart will be in the arena where he'll be celebrated for the nine years he spent with the Celtics as the heart and soul of the team.

One of those who's looking forward to saluting Smart tomorrow is Joe Mazzulla, who spoke following Saturday's practice about the impact that his former pupil had on and off the court.

“Who he is will forever be etched into the city of Boston because of what he’s done in community service, and what he’s done here, just helping represent (the organization),” Mazzulla said. “I think he’s one of the guys that started our defensive foundation before I got here … So just who he is off the court and then kind of what he brought from a mindset standpoint and a defensive intensity standpoint (was special). It’ll be good to see him tomorrow.”

In his first season with the Grizzlies, Smart is averaging 14.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. His scoring average and steals average are both career-highs, as is his 43.0 percent field-goal clip.

However, injuries have limited Smart to just 20 appearances. He also missed the first Celtics-Grizzlies matchup on Nov. 19 in Memphis, which Boston won, 102-100. So his first game against his former club will have to wait at least until next season.

Even though Smart will be on the bench Sunday night, Mazzulla expects emotions will running a little higher due to his presence alone.

“I think there will be a little bit extra emotion, just because of how Smart’s been able to impact the community and impact the Garden so many times,” Mazzulla said before cracking a smile and adding, “so hopefully during a timeout, I don’t know if his hand still hurts, but maybe he can dive on the floor for a loose ball and roll one out.”

Smart’s old teammates are excited to see him as well, including his former mentee, Payton Pritchard.

“We went to a championship with him and won a lot of games with him,” Pritchard reminisced. “He meant a lot to the city of Boston. He did nine years here, so he had a lot of good years, and he was a leader and meant a lot to the organization … “Marcus is just a good dude at heart. He wants to have a good time. He’s a competitor. But he looks out for his people, so I admire that about him.”

It's impossible to replicate what Smart brought to the Celtics over that nine-year span. As Mazzulla, said, “You don’t replace it; I think it just looks different.”

However, Smart's presence is still felt in the culture here. The way he set the tone on the defensive end is something that rubbed off on his teammates, and you can see it in the way certain guys play. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, for example, are two of the hardest-playing superstars on the defensive end, and part of that is because Smart demanded such effort out of his teammates.

“When you have a guard that plays as hard as he does, who guards centers, guards point guards, picks up full court, boxes out, takes charges, all those little things that I think go into it,” Mazzulla said. “When you see a guard have an impact on the game on so many levels the way he did, I think that’s kind of what started [our defensive identity].”

It’s only right to celebrate a guy who made such an impact, and the Celtics organization will surely give Smart a return to remember Sunday night.