Birthday Boy Marcus Smart is the Gift that Keeps on Giving

BOSTON – Marcus Smart is the gift that keeps on giving. Even on his birthday.

The 26-year-old guard provided his shorthanded Celtics squad with a much-needed 29 points Friday night, as they hosted a red-hot Utah Jazz team while playing without both Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward. He also treated fans inside TD Garden to a sharpshooting firework display, banging in six shots from beyond the 3-point arc.

Smart’s most important contribution of all, however, didn’t show up on the stat sheet of the 99-94 loss. It was his gift of empowerment, specifically toward teammate Daniel Theis, that took the cake.

Now, to be clear, the first part of this gift was handed out in brotherly fashion, meaning there was some tough love involved.

After a couple of unsuccessful possessions near the start of the third quarter, a frustrated Smart approached Theis, got up in his grill and then started jawing away. From an outsider’s perspective, it appeared to be a heated moment between the two, but in reality, it was just Smart’s way of instilling confidence within the third-year big man by encouraging him to be more aggressive on his rolls to the rim.

“I was just telling Daniel, 'You deserve to score the ball, so if you roll, you've got to roll so we can get you the ball so you can get some easy buckets because you work too hard not to get those easy buckets,'” Smart later described. “When Theis is rolling to the rim, he brings more intensity to our team and we're more aggressive because he's there. And if their big commits to the guards, we can dump it to him. Or if they don't, and we get the ball to the rim and the big contests it, he's there to clean it up.

“I just told him, ‘You work too hard not to get those easy buckets. Let's get you some easy buckets and then step out to the 3. You deserve it.’ And he agreed.”

Two possessions later, Theis set a pick for Kemba Walker, and then rolled toward the basket once the double-team came. Walker found him wide open, and he put in an and-one layup with ease.

Smart was the first one to rush over to Theis, throwing his arms up in “I-told-you-so” fashion, before giving his teammate a huge bear hug and an encouraging pat on the chest.

“I let him know that [he does] so much,” Smart said of Theis, who tallied 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds. “Our bigs do a lot for us guards to get us shots, to get us shots, to get us open buckets, that they deserve the praise. And I just harped on it and I got on him, but then I wanted to let him know that, at the same time, you deserve it. I want you to know it and I want you to feel it and I want our bigs to know we really appreciate the work that they put in for us.”

Constant communication is something that Smart has harped upon since Day 1 this season. He encourages his teammates to always speak their mind, to always be willing to give and take constructive criticism in any moment, because he feels that doing so is critical toward success.

“That's part of this team,” Smart explained. “We're able to talk to guys, talk to each other, and keep it real. We don't sugarcoat anything with each other here. That's what makes us the team that we are.”

That’s also what makes Smart such a critical leader for this Celtics team. He’s the gift that keeps on giving in all areas of the game.

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