Smart's All-Around Effort Nearly Leads Shorthanded C's to Comeback
BOSTON - As Marcus Smart stepped onto the parquet floor for the second half of Sunday night's matchup against the Indiana Pacers, he was fully aware that he would have to make one heck of an all-around impact for the rest of the game in order for the Boston Celtics to have a fighting chance to win.
The C's, who were already without Jaylen Brown (concussion) and Al Horford (illness) from the start of the game, were dealt a third blow to their starting rotation at halftime when Kyrie Irving was ruled out for the remainder of the contest because of left knee soreness.
With those key absences in mind, Smart took it upon himself to fill as many voids as possible. The result: a 20-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound, four-steal performance to help lead the C's to a nail-biting finish that resulted in a narrow, 99-97 defeat at TD Garden.
On a typical night, Smart will focus most of his energy on the defensive end, while also making gritty, high-effort plays on the offensive end. The Celtics usually don't need him to be a high-volume scorer, but whenever he's called upon in that department, he's always ready, willing and able to answer.
"I'm just trying to do everything I can to help my team win," Smart stated after the game. "Whatever that is, I'm going to do it. If I need to play defense - every night I'm on somebody's star guy - I'm going to do that. If I need to go out there and score the ball, I'm going to go out there and score the ball."
And score the ball, he did. Smart knocked down a season-high-tying six 3-pointers on 12 attempts, while also swishing both of his free-throw attempts. His play during crunch-time was particularly impressive, as he made or assisted on every Celtics field goal during the last eight minutes of regulation.
The C's trailed by as many as nine points during the fourth quarter and was fielding an incredibly youthful lineup, but Smart's veteran poise played a critical part in keeping them in the game. Meanwhile, a number of youngsters stepped up alongside the fourth-year guard, including Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum. Those three players accounted for all 18 of Boston's points during the last 7:06 of the game.
"It's just something that we've seen all year," said Rozier, who logged 16 points and six rebounds, but missed a potential game-tying, fade-away jumper at the buzzer. "When a man goes down, everybody steps up. Losing a guy like Kyrie is always tough, but we just always gotta cover for him as much as we can and try to play as hard as we can."
Irving, loved the determination he saw out of the young group after leaving the game. With that being said, the All-Star point guard wasn't the least bit surprised by the display of collective resiliency.
"That's what we expect," said Irving, who was experiencing a quite bit of discomfort after the game. "I think we've shown night-in and night-out a next-man-up mentality by just trying to do everything possible to put ourselves in a great position to win. We have guys that are really competitive, and they'll do anything to put a W in the win column."
There is no player who fits that description more than Smart. And he will be ready to continue to step up and push his teammates should Irving miss any more time.
"We're all professionals, so we have no excuses," said Smart. "With guys out, that's more opportunities for guys to come in and make impacts for this team. And so, if we have to do that, we have to really lock in."