BOSTON – As Marcus Smart dribbled to the top of the 3-point arc on the first possession of Saturday night’s game, he was shocked to see not a single Phoenix Suns player come out to guard him. He seized the wide-open opportunity, as he rose up on the spot and made Phoenix pay.
At that moment, Smart knew that a special night was in store for him inside TD Garden.
“I told myself it was going to be a long night for them and to just keep shooting with confidence,” he later recalled.
Such confidence would lead Smart straight into the Celtics record books.
Once Smart started shooting, he didn’t stop. He knocked down a franchise-record 11-of-22 from downtown, surpassing the previous 3-point mark of nine which had been shared by Isaiah Thomas and Antoine Walker. The 25-year-old guard also set a career-high in the scoring department with 37 points, though it wasn’t enough to propel his team in the end.
Despite the epic individual effort, the shorthanded Celtics fell 123-119, and those were the only numbers that Smart cared about when all was said and done.
“I’d rather have the win than the record,” said the selfless vet, who became just the 11th player in NBA history to knock down at least 11 3-pointers in a single game. “I mean obviously it’s a great accomplishment. It just shows the hard work that I’ve been putting in is paying off. But I’d rather trade that in for the win.”
Still, Smart’s hard work should be appreciated.
There was a time when Smart faced criticism for his 3-point shooting, as he went through some minor long-distance struggles early in his career as many young players do. But he made sure to put all of that talk to rest through hard work and dedication.
Smart has spent hours upon hours honing his craft in the gym, and it has shown. His 3-point percentage has improved during each of his last four seasons, and his volume also continues to rise. He currently sits fifth all-time on the franchise's 3-point list, and he is on pace to make a career-high 171 3-pointers this season.
The Celtics needed such volume out of Smart Saturday night, being without two of their top shooters in Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, who were both sidelined with minor injuries. And he delivered to the best of his ability.
“He shot the ball well,” C’s coach Brad Stevens commented after the game. “[The Suns] were going under a lot of screens, and he was shooting confidently, made some big shots late in the game, end of the half, all of that stuff. Obviously he’s a tough guy. He got a lot of good looks and took advantage of them.”
Smart took advantage of the tough looks as well, such as the heavily contested, 27-foot, off-the-dribble dagger he canned just before the halftime buzzer. There was also his clutch, off-balance transition triple with 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter, which cut Boston’s deficit down to four points.
He was a man on a mission from the opening possession to the final buzzer, and all the while he was unstoppable.
“It’s a different feeling,” Smart said of the zone he was in. “It’s like you’re out there by yourself and no one is out there with you. And once you get in that zone, it’s kind of hard to get out, and you play like that.”
It’s a zone in which Smart hopes to remain, as he and the Celtics prepare for one of their biggest tests of the season Monday night when they host Anthony Davis, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I expect everyone in this locker room to be ready and locked in,” Smart said. “We’ve got to take it to another level Monday.”
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