Smart Outplays Westbrook in OKC, Leads C's to W
OKLAHOMA CITY – Some might consider Russell Westbrook to be the best point guard in the world, but he wasn’t even the best point guard on his home court Sunday night in Oklahoma City.
That title falls on the shoulders of Marcus Smart, Boston’s second-year point guard who led his team to a breezy 100-85 win over the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook entered the game as the hottest player in the league, having rattled off consecutive triple-doubles and six straight games of at least 20 points and 10 assists, all the while barking at opponents with his intense competitiveness. That didn’t seem to strike much fear into Smart.
“Not at all,” Smart said after being asked if he was intimidated by Westbrook and his snarling persona. “Can’t be. Russ knows that and he understands that, and I know that.”
Then came the kicker: “I love those types of challenges,” Smart said with a heavy hint of confidence.
The man speaks the truth.
Smart walked onto the court for the opening tip and stood nose-to-nose with Westbrook all night long. There was no fear. There was no backing down. Instead, there was motivation.
There was motivation for Smart to lead the Celtics to a win. There was motivation for Smart to outperform Westbrook, who had been on a ridiculous stretch. There was motivation for Smart to do these things in front of his family and friends who traveled to the game from his hometown of Dallas and from his college town of Stillwater, Okla., which is just 65 miles down the road.
It was clear from the opening tip that this wasn’t just another game for Smart. This one was different.
He came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, making four of his six shots during the first quarter en route to a team-high nine points. Following a scoreless second period, during which he logged fewer than five minutes of action, Smart went off at the start of the second half.
Smart got everything cooking at that point, as he showcased driving buckets, pull-up jumpers, 3-pointers and everything between. He scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting during the third quarter, highlighted by a driving left-handed floater over the outstretched arm of shot-blocking menace Serge Ibaka.
That bucket brought his point total to 24 on the night, one more than that of his counterpart, Westbrook, and pulled the Celtics to within 72-70 after they had trailed by as many as 11 points during the period.
“His shooting kept us in the game in the first three quarters,” Brad Stevens said after the game. “I thought he made some big shots.”
Smart scored only two more points the rest of the way, giving him a career-high 26 on the night, but he continued to make highlight play after highlight play.
After checking in at the 5:14 mark of the fourth quarter, he immediately got back into the action. Smart made multiple noteworthy plays down the stretch that broke Oklahoma City’s spirit, beginning with a strong rebound in the land of the trees off of a missed free throw by Westbrook.
Next came the most impressive defensive play of the night.
One minute after Smart had checked back into the game, D.J. Augustin took the ball from end to end on a fast break for what appeared to be an easy layup. That was until Smart went LeBron on him.
Smart trailed Augustin from halfcourt all the way to the basket and took off for an eye-opening block from behind. He slammed the ball off of the backboard and pulled down the rebound, essentially telling the Thunder, “Nuh uh. Not tonight.”
He grabbed another three boards over the final four minutes of the game, including an offensive tip-out in the final minute, and scored his final two points after being fouled on another offensive rebound attempt.
These fourth-quarter plays are the ones that Stevens typically calls “winning plays.” They’re the ones that don’t get their due justice in a box score; the ones that build momentum for one team while crushing the other.
“I take huge pride (in those plays),” said Smart. “It means a lot. Those type of little things don’t show up in the stat sheet as much – diving on the floor for a loose ball, helping your teammate up – but those things carry over in games.”
And, more importantly, they win games.
Boston caught its groove during the second half and that was in large part due to Smart’s early scoring and hustle plays down the stretch.
Oklahoma City, meanwhile, had its wheels fall off the proverbial wagon as Westbrook shot 1-for-11 during the second half and 0-for-5 during the fourth quarter.
Westbrook was asked shortly after the conclusion of the game whether or not Smart’s performance was special. He responded by saying, “There’s 82 games I do this. Don’t get it twisted.”
Well, what won’t get twisted is the fact that Smart was the one who did ‘it’ Sunday night, and he did it right on Westbrook’s home court.
Smart was the best point guard on the floor while leading the Celtics to their fourth win in five games.