Smart's Scorching Shooting Stretch Continues as C's Outlast Grizzlies

BOSTON – As the winter weather in Boston grows colder, Marcus Smart grows hotter.

Using his right shooting hand as a source of heat, the Celtics guard has been setting the nets ablaze from 3-point range since mid-December. Friday night, the blaze turned into wildfire, as Smart scored 20 points while shooting a season-best 6-of-8 from deep to help lead Boston to a 122-116 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at TD Garden.

The concept of heating up has never been an issue for Smart, who has periodically erupted from beyond the arc throughout his career. The challenge for him has been staying warm.

Until now.

Over the course of 17 games dating back to Dec. 15, Smart has unquestionably been Boston’s top perimeter scorer. Not only has he been the team’s highest-volume 3-point shooter (36 makes) during that stretch, but he has also been its most accurate (47.4 percent).

At the moment, Smart is shooting 37.4 percent (64-of-171) from 3 on the season, which places him third on the team among players who have attempted at least 50 treys, trailing only Marcus Morris (43.5 percent) and Kyrie Irving (40.6 percent). That mark also places him ahead of many of the top sharpshooters in the league.

Seeing such prolonged efficiency from a player who owned a career 3-point mark of 29.3 percent entering this season may come as a surprise to some, but Celtics coach Brad Stevens has seen this coming for quite some time.

“I thought he was going to have a really good shooting year last year,” Stevens said after Friday night’s win. “He put in a lot of time and work over the summer (of 2017), and then he had a couple of hand injuries and I think that that set him back for that season. But you could see that there was a foundation there that was going to really pay off. You know, he’s always made big shots, but you could see that his shot had really improved, so it was unfortunate about the injuries. And then this year, it’s looked good all year.”

“I definitely felt the same way,” agreed Smart, who has seen his 3-point percentage increase annually over the past four seasons. “I took an injury with my hand a few times, and it kind of delayed the process. I thank God that everything has been on track for me.”

Health is one of many contributing factors that have allowed Smart to stay on track shooting-wise. Also of aid have been the team’s post-practice shooting contests, in which Smart regularly participates.

“I think our 3-point competition helped him,” Irving said earlier in January following another Smart scorcher. “Just extra 3-point shooting that we’re doing. That was one of the things that I really loved while I was in Cleveland, with Mike Miller and James Jones. Shooting with those guys every day, I was getting my (butt) kicked. Those guys are professional shooters, shooting every day. Their shots are the same every time. They’ve been shooting for more years than I have and have probably gotten more shots up than I have.

“The best way to get that is just to stay consistent, practice and go against one another and make it competitive,” he added. “You know we’re joking around, but in the inside, all of us are trying to win. We’re all joking around and having fun, but it’s always good to shoot extra and feel good about it and know that your teammates are there with you and we’re seeing your shots go in and it gives us confidence in you, confidence in us and it’s just great to build that camaraderie in competition in practice. Then it translates to the game.”

In doing so, Smart has silenced a lot of doubters, and he’s gotten quite a bit of enjoyment out of that.

“My whole life I’ve been criticized for all kinds of things,” he said. “I’ve always been the underdog and I’ve always bet on myself. This isn’t new to me and to be honest it’s not even a surprise. I’ve been putting in the work and it’s starting to pay off. They keep giving me confidence and the confidence is going to stay up. Hopefully the shots keep falling.”

Judging by how hot his shooting hand has been over the past month and change, there’s no sign of Smart cooling off.

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