Smart's Shooting Keeps C's Afloat vs. Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY – Homecoming games, especially for rookies, are generally pressure-packed and rarely turn out well.
Marcus Smart, who played his college ball at Oklahoma State about 70 miles north of Oklahoma City, bucked that trend on Wednesday night. The Celtics didn’t quite pull off the victory after getting outscored 40-24 in the third quarter, but Smart’s tenacity and shooting kept the Celtics in the mix as they made a late rally that fell short.
The Celtics were eventually edged by the Thunder, 122-118, and the loss snapped their five-game win streak. Smart obviously would have traded the gaudy stat line for a win, but his 25 points marked a career high for the rookie.
“It was just one of those nights,” Smart said. “My teammates did a good job of finding me in the right positions to score the ball."
That position was typically behind the arc, as Smart hoisted 12 attempts from downtown. While not yet known as a marksman, his 3-point shooting (7-for-12) was eye-popping in Oklahoma. Not even Larry Bird ever nailed seven 3-pointers in a road game for the Celtics.
Smart’s teammates are certainly taking notice.
“He’s putting in a lot of work and it’s showing out there. I’m happy for him. He shot the ball really well tonight. He’s just trying to be aggressive,” Avery Bradley said of Smart’s performance.
Smart didn’t score in the first quarter, but dropped 14 in the second quarter alone, and was all over the court making plays and stuffing that stat sheet. He finished with nine rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals. If anything, perhaps he was too active; Smart’s fourth foul in the third quarter sent him to the bench and the Celtics seemed to lose an edge while he sat out with foul trouble.
“We tell him not to think and just go out there and play his game and that’s what he’s doing,” Bradley said.
On the strength of their big third quarter, the Thunder led by as many as 16 points, many of which came on offensive rebounds which led to second-chance points. Still, Smart and company kept chipping away and the Celtics managed to climb back into the game in the final minutes despite Russell Westbrook’s 36-point explosion and parade to the free-throw line (19-for-22 on the night).
“We didn’t balance poise and assertiveness at the level you need to in this building in a game when they played really well,” Head Coach Brad Stevens said.
Striking that balance is easier said than done, especially for a rookie. Smart occasionally will err on the side of the dagger shot that may not always be the best basketball decision, but you can usually understand his thought process. He’s not afraid to shoot in the clutch and doesn’t hesitate to do so either.
Smart’s night obviously didn’t wrap up the way he wanted it to. His airball 3-pointer with 1:33 remaining wasn’t the punctuation he sought in his homecoming game in Oklahoma.
But Smart, like the Celtics, keeps fighting. His time is coming.