Celts To Take on Warriors Without Smart's Defense

SAN FRANCISCO - There may be no opponent in the league against which Marcus Smart is more important to the Celtics than when they take on the Warriors. Unfortunately for Boston, the star defensive guard will not be available for Saturday night’s primetime showdown in Oakland.

Smart suffered hand lacerations prior to Wednesday night’s matchup with the LA Clippers and will miss approximately two weeks of action as they heal.

“It’s unfortunate to see that,” Al Horford said of Smart’s injury. “Marcus is a teammate I have a lot of respect for and I’m going to stand by him. Whatever the decision was, he made a bad decision”

Smart later tweeted that he “swiped at and hit a picture frame” as he suffered the injury. He returned to Boston to be evaluated by Drs. Tony Shena and Drew Terona at New England Baptist Hospital.

Smart, in his fourth NBA season, is unquestionably one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. Despite playing as a reserve last season for Boston, he garnered 21 voting points and five First-Team votes for the NBA’s All-Defensive team. And he’s managed to improve at that end this season. Smart is allowing 0.846 points per possession this season, according to Synergy Sports, and that number ranks in the 78th percentile of the league. Last season, he allowed 0.932 points per possession, which ranked in the 40th percentile.

Perimeter defense, bolstered by Smart’s presence for an average of 30.3 minutes per game, is a big reason why the Celtics are the top defensive team in the NBA. Boston owns a league-best defensive rating of 99.8, and it is the only team in the NBA with a defensive rating better than 100.5.

But Saturday night, the Celtics will be taking on the most prolific offense in the NBA in the Warriors, a team that is boosted by three perimeter-based All-Stars. Golden State leads the NBA in offensive rating (113.8), points per game (116.1), field goal percentage (51.5 percent), 3-point percentage (39.6 percent) and assists per game (30.8).

There is no more dynamic perimeter threesome in the league than Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Each player averages at least 20.5 points per game and shoots at least 42.0 percent from long distance. Curry, Durant and Thompson combine to average 74.0 PPG and shoot 43.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Yet the Celtics have been able to overcome the Warriors more often than not during their last five meetings. Boston owns a 3-2 record against Golden State during that span, and Smart has played a key role in that success.

Smart and the Celtics have limited Curry to 39.1 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from long distance (five games), Thompson to 50.0 percent on field goals and 32.2 percent on 3s (four games), and Durant to 50.0 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from long distance (two games). Boston also limited the Warriors to 88 points during a 92-88 win on Nov. 16, which stands as Golden State’s second-lowest scoring effort of the season. Curry, Durant and Thompson all logged 31 or more minutes during that game.

Saturday night could be different, however, without Smart on the floor.

Golden State has won six of its last seven games and scored at least 123 points during its last two victories. Celtics head coach said of the Warriors’ recent stretch of offensive play, “They’re a joke. I don’t even know what to say.”

This contest could turn into a joke if the Celtics don’t receive a boost from players who will receive more of an opportunity with Smart sidelined. Two players who will garner greater responsibility are Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin, and the team believes they’re ready.

“We’ve always had that next-guy mentality,” said Jaylen Brown, “so when somebody goes down, it’s an opportunity for somebody to step up.”

Horford singled out Rozier as an athletic defender who is able to chase players around screens. That’s an important ability while facing off against Thompson in particular, but also against Curry. Rozier has averaged only 19.5 minutes of playing time during four career games against Golden State, but he’ll likely see that number spike well into the 20s Saturday night.

Larkin, meanwhile, is a player who Brad Stevens discussed at length. Stevens clearly believes that Larkin is capable of doing more than just holding his own against top opposing scorers.

“Where we have been most impressed with his growth has been on the defensive end of the floor,” Stevens said Friday after Friday afternoon’s practice at the University of San Francisco. “I thought his minutes against Lou Williams were phenomenal the other day, and obviously these guys have four All-Stars on their team so you’re going to need to throw as many bodies at them as possible.”

The Celtics would love for one of those bodies to be Smart, but that’s not going to happen. Smart is instead back in Boston with hand lacerations, and Boston will need to lean heavily on Rozier and Larkin to get it done against the defending-champion Warriors without him.