Smart, Back in Full Swing, Delivers Third Straight Strong Outing
BOSTON – It took Marcus Smart a few games to regain his conditioning and overall comfort after spending nearly three weeks confined inside his bedroom dealing with a double-eye infection. Now, he’s back in full swing and doing Marcus Smart things.
Smart was the all-around catalyst of Monday night’s 113-101 win over the Chicago Bulls, as he came off the bench and tallied 12 points, grabbed five rebounds, tied Gordon Hayward for the game lead in assists with eight and snagged a game-high three steals.
It marked the third straight game in which Smart played an immense role leading the charge for the Celtics, indicating that he is back to his former tenacious, well-rounded self after overcoming the treacherous infection that sidelined him for most of December.
“Obviously he had the huge scoring game against Philly and was maybe our best player in that game,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted Monday night of Smart’s season-high 24-point effort against the 76ers four nights prior. “But his last two games have been just as good. He was so engaged Saturday night (against New Orleans) in leading and talking. And then today, I thought he was great.”
Monday night's effort was the most well-rounded of the three for Smart, with him producing solid numbers in several different categories, as previously noted. The Celtics were downright dominant with him on the floor, as they outscored Chicago by 25 points during his 33 minutes of action. The next-highest individual plus/minus rating was Hayward’s plus-14.
Being a jack-of-all-trades is exactly what the Celtics require out of Smart. He can score when they need an offensive boost. He can facilitate when any of their three high-volume scorers – Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker – are hot. He can wreak havoc on defense. And he can be the vocal leader on both ends of the floor.
“Whether he has nights where he gets open looks and is able to knock them down or nights where they’re guarding you tight and you gotta make a play for somebody else, I mean it’s going to be really critical that he continues to do that,” Stevens said of Smart’s overall impact. “He’s been a great boost for us, and I think he’s starting to find himself after being out so long in these last three, four games.”
Smart has also noticed a difference in his level of play over the past week.
“It feels good,” Smart said of being back to himself. “Those [three] weeks I was out really took a toll on me mentally, physically and emotionally – not being out there with those guys, and just really stuck in one room, in solitary confinement, and not being able to do anything. It was tough. So it feels good to get my legs back under me and to really get my wind back.”
Another benefit of having Smart back in tip-top shape is that the Celtics core can now function as a whole, given that he, Brown, Hayward and Walker have all dealt with various health issues throughout the season.
“We finally have the majority of our guys healthy and are finally able to play together,” Smart stated. “We knew that with the core group of guys we had and with everybody else that’s here, what we could do when we’re all healthy.”
Smart is a huge part of that core, given his unique skill set and ability to contribute in so many different ways. The Celtics missed that piece during most of December and the beginning part of January as he regained his health, but now he is back in full swing doing all of the Marcus Smart things.