Heart Over Height: Smart Seizes Another Big Assignment vs. Mavs

BOSTON – Marcus Smart found himself being drawn into the post to defend Kristaps Porzingis time and time again over the course of Monday night’s matchup between the Celtics and Mavericks. Nearly every instance played out the same way: with the 6-foot-3 guard somehow finding a way to shut down the 7-foot-3 forward.

Largely thanks to Smart’s help, the Celtics were able to hold Porzingis to a season-low four points on just 1-of-11 shooting, while coming away with a 116-106 win at TD Garden. It was Porzingis’ worst offensive performance since a one-point, 0-for-11 effort against the Celtics on Dec. 21, 2017 when he was a member of the New York Knicks. That also happened to be the last time he personally faced Smart in a game.

Porzingis, like many big men who match themselves up against Smart, tried to use his height to his advantage Monday night. Though, he ran into the same problem over and over again.

"I had no legs on my shot,” Porzingis described. “It was just flat. I rushed into a couple of them. I have to take my time when I get those switches. Get down low, get good position, and just turn around and shoot over guys."

Smart, however, would not allow him to do any of that. That’s because heart always beats height in his eyes, and there is no player with more heart than Smart.

“I was just being physical with him,” Smart said of the matchup. “I just used my strength and my quickness. Obviously, he has a height advantage over me, so I had to get low and really battle. Really for us, it was keeping our hands back; he loves doing the sweep-through move … It’s kind of hard to guard. So, for us, it was just being as physical as we can, getting our hands up and making him shoot over us.”

Smart has found himself matched up against many big men throughout the season. He’s guarded an offensive powerhouse in Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he’s defended a big bruiser in Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson, among others. Those matchups seem to always end in the same fashion: with Smart – the smaller player – on top.

“I love it,” Smart said of matching up against bigs. “It’s a challenge that I love every single time I get the call. I pride myself on the defensive end. That’s where I earn my keep. So when I’m matched up against those guys, I never think it’s a disadvantage for me. I think it’s an advantage for me on both ends.”

At least on the defensive end, such is typically the case. No matter the size or the skill, Smart almost always manages to find a way to shut down the opposition. That’s one of the main reasons why he was on the All-Defensive First Team last season, and it’s also why he was the top vote-getter among all guards for the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Despite being aware of those accolades, opposing bigs can’t seem to shake the temptation of trying to shoot over Smart or attempting to plow right through him.

To those ambitious bigs, Smart has a message he’d like to share.

“Keep it coming,” he said to close out his post-game press conference. “Plain and simple. Keep it coming.”

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