Dissecting Smart's Decision at the Buzzer
LOS ANGELES – It would be easy to pile on Marcus Smart for what you think he should have done during the final 5.7 seconds of Tuesday night’s heartbreaking loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Let’s not take the easy way out.
Let’s instead look at the play through Smart’s eyes and reasonably determine why he attempted a potential game-winning 3-pointer that barely missed at the buzzer inside Staples Center.
First and foremost, we need to outline the situation at hand.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was fouled with 5.7 seconds left in the game, with Los Angeles leading 108-107. The foul was called 1.6 seconds after Terry Rozier made it a one-point game with an impressive driving layup.
Boston had no timeouts remaining, so one way or another, it needed to go the length of the court for the final shot of the game, either off an inbound pass or off a rebound.
Caldwell-Pope straddled the line with a chance to secure at the very worst an overtime session for Los Angeles (if he made both, the best Boston could have done was to tie the game). However, he bricked the first attempt off the back of the rim, and then, with the pressure on, he bricked the second as well.
That’s where it all began.
The first miss was great for Boston, but the second actually made life much more difficult on the C’s. Had Caldwell-Pope made the second attempt, Boston would have been able to run a set inbound play, likely getting the ball into the hands of a guard on the run, which would have allowed that player to attack LA’s defense with a head of steam. Instead, Boston fell into a much more difficult scenario.
Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris did a great job of clearing out space around the basket for Boston’s guards to crash the glass. This was planned, as it created the next-best scenario outside of a set inbound play. As you can see, Rozier also enters the frame from the bottom for a potential rebound, meaning either he or Smart would be able to grab the board and quickly push it up the floor for a shot.
Smart is in perfect position to grab the board, and he does exactly that. However, the process of grabbing the rebound puts Smart at a disadvantage.
Only 5.7 seconds remain on the clock. First on Smart’s mind is securing the rebound, but he does so while facing in the opposite direction from Boston’s basket. So his first move upon landing on the court was to reverse his momentum and head back in the other direction. That takes time – and concentration.
Smart’s first dribble doesn’t hit the ground until the 5.3-second mark, and his body is essentially still upright. According to Brad Stevens, a player should get one dribble per second in this situation, which afforded Smart five more dribbles from this moment on.
Smart actually surpasses that total, as he takes six more dribbles (seven total) before he gets his shot off.
Now let’s back-track and run through Smart’s options.
The first option that came available was an outlet pass to Rozier. Rozier clearly wanted the pass with 4.7 seconds left, as pictured below. However, Rozier isn’t as open as he looks. Jordan Clarkson, who is not pictured, is on the other side of the halfcourt line and between Rozier and the basket. Essentially, Rozier would have been in the same position as Smart was (a one-on-one transition play), but five to 10 feet ahead.
Rozier also appears to come open with 2.2 seconds left on the clock, but as you can see in the image below, Smart had already begun his behind-the-back move from right to left. It would have been almost impossible for him to have gathered his dribble and find Rozier – if he was still open – in time for a shot attempt.
Rozier had just scored five points during the previous 20 seconds, so he surely would have been a great option for a shot attempt, but getting the ball to him for a great look wasn’t as much of a slam dunk as it may have looked on live television.
The next option Smart had was to find Kyrie Irving, who, as Al Horford said after the game, is the ideal option for a game-winning attempt. However, as you see in this clip, Irving doesn’t even enter the camera’s view until 3.7 seconds are left on the clock, and he's in the far-left corner of the court. Smart didn’t have a credible passing option to Irving as he brought the ball up the court.
He did, however, have an option to get the ball to Irving with 1.6 seconds left. Irving lifted from the corner and curled around Jayson Tatum on the left wing. Smart could have hit him with a pass that would have led to a great look that Irving could have been able to step into.
But as you can see in the image below, Smart’s mind had already triggered and made a decision. Getting his own shot off was, in his mind, was the best credible option at that moment. The first instinct in this moment is to be sure that the team gets a quality look at the basket. Smart had already triggered into his shooting motion with 1.4 seconds left, and the shot left his hand with exactly 1.0 second left in the game.
As we now know, the shot fell off the front of the rim as time expired, and Los Angeles escaped with a narrow victory. Smart became an easy scapegoat after the loss because he didn’t pass the ball to Rozier, and because he took the shot rather than Irving. But if we really digest the play from Smart’s perspective, it’s difficult to find him at fault.
As he put it, “You’ve got a good basketball player trying to make a play right there.”
That’s what any coach would want him to do. Smart didn’t convert on the shot, but that doesn’t mean he should come under attack for how the final 5.7 seconds of Tuesday’s game unraveled.