Marcus Smart's Impending Return Is Not All About the Defense

BOSTON – Marcus Smart may return to play in tonight’s Game 4 after missing the last four weeks with a torn left oblique muscle.

Smart is officially listed as questionable by the Celtics, but he stated Sunday that the final hurdle that needed to be cleared for him to be active tonight was simply to wake up today with no pain following two straight days of practice.

Smart’s availability will likely be announced in the hours leading up to tip-off.

Many on the outside will hear of Smart’s imminent return and immediately think about the defensive boost the guard will provide, and with great reason. Smart is arguably Boston’s top perimeter defender and he finished second on the team in charges drawn during the regular season with 15.

It is possible, however, that his presence may make an equally significant impact on the other end of the court.

Without Smart, who started 48 games alongside Kyrie Irving during the regular season, Irving has been forced to play with the ball in his hands and initiate Boston’s offense far more often. This may seem like a minor factor, but it is not.

Having the ability to play a dynamic scorer like Irving off of the ball is a crucial element to Boston’s offensive success. It allows the Celtics to get the ball into his hands on the go, making him far more difficult to defend, and it also allows the C’s to free him up via a steady diet of off-ball screens.

Doing so turned Boston into a very efficient offensive team while Smart and Irving shared the court during the regular season. The Celtics shot 48.2 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from long range as a team during the 1,370 minutes they shared, all while outscoring opponents by 6.1 points per 100 possessions.

The C’s have experienced similar success during the postseason, while Terry Rozier has filled in for Smart as the second ball handler alongside Irving. Boston has outscored its opponents by 13.4 points per 100 possessions while those two have been on the court together, compared to Irving’s overall net rating of 3.2 points per 100 possessions during the postseason.

Irving has stated over and over this season that having that second ball handler on the court alongside him, particularly the versatile Smart, opens things up for him to go to work. He reiterated that stance after Sunday afternoon’s practice.

“He’s a big, big part of our team,” Irving said of Smart. “He alleviates a lot of different pressures out there throughout the game, makes my job a lot easier.”

Smart, too, believes that he’ll make life easier on Irving if he’s available to play tonight.

“Just my energy and my playmaking abilities,” he said of what he’ll add to the game. “[The Bucks are] doing a really good job on Kyrie of not really letting him be comfortable.”

Irving will be far more comfortable tonight if his backcourt partner is able to return to the lineup for Game 4. Smart and the Celtics have been waiting four long weeks for his return. It appears the day may have finally arrived.

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