Smart Picks Up Game, Teammates in Utah Opener

SALT LAKE CITY – Marcus Smart was playing in the NBA Playoffs two months ago. Now he’s a part of Boston’s summer league team in Utah, where he began showing off his improved game and renowned physicality Monday night.

Smart and the Celtics opened up their summer league slate on Monday at EnergySolutions Arena against the hometown Jazz. Although Boston fell 100-82, Smart was undoubtedly one of the standouts of the night.

The point guard poured in game highs of 26 points and eight assists while logging nearly 30 minutes of playing time. Those totals were more than most would have expected, but the fashion in which they were tallied was even more surprising.

No one on the court attacked the basket as much as the 6-foot-4, 220-pound guard. He wanted to get to the rim, and he did just that.

“I’m trying to get to the basket a little bit more,” he said after the contest. Smart later added, “It’s real big for me and this team… me getting to the rim, not only to score the ball, but also to make plays for my teammates.”

Smart did not shoot the ball well, making just six of his 20 shot attempts and two of his 10 3-pointers. But he made up for those poor percentages by doing what the best players on the court are supposed to do: get to the line.

Only one other player in the game attempted more field goals than Smart did free throws (Rodney Hood with 17 field goal attempts). Smart got to the line for 13 freebies and he canned 12 of them.

To put that into perspective, Smart attempted more than five free throws only twice last season, maxing out at nine attempts. And if you think this happened only because he’s playing in the summer league, remember that he never attempted more than eight free throws in a game during his first summer league stint.

It’s clear that Smart’s ankle is now healthy, and that’s allowing him to probe the defense as aggressively as he did at Oklahoma State. It’s also clear that his aggressiveness will benefit the Celtics offense.

Attacking the basket, scoring points and dishing out assists, however, won’t be the only way Smart affects the game. He is one of the most physical, active and energetic players on the court, whether it be during a playoff game, during a summer league game, or during a pick-up game at the park.

“We saw last year in summer league, if there’s a loose ball, he’s laying out for it. He’s going to be the one that gets it,” said Celtics summer league head coach Jay Larranaga. “He fights through screens as good as anybody I’ve ever seen. He’s just a relentless competitor.”

That’s useful trait, one that can rub off on the rest of this young group of Celtics.

“Hopefully our other young guys can see the level of intensity that you can get to, because that’s what he does,” Larranaga added. “That’s what makes him really, really successful.”

It appears that his young teammates are already paying attention. Jordan Mickey has known Smart for years, but he has never been his teammate. Tonight’s contest was his first opportunity to play alongside Smart, and the point guard’s intensity is already elevating that of the 6-foot-8 forward.

“It’s extremely contagious,” said Mickey, who debuted with the C’s by scoring 16 points and blocking three shots. “Just playing with a physical guy like that, he raises the intensity of everybody else on the floor.”

As any Celtics fan knows, that’s nothing new for Smart. He’s been picking his teammates up his entire life, as Brad Stevens made sure to make note throughout last season.

Getting to the rim at a high level to create easy scoring opportunities for both he and his teammates? That is definitely new for Smart during his NBA career, and it was a pleasant surprise to find Monday night.

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