BOSTON —Â Doc Rivers has kept tabs on the Celtics since leaving Boston two summers ago, and he’s liked what he’s seen in rookie point guard Marcus Smart.
âHe reminds me of me â a better version of me,” the Los Angeles Clippers coach said before Sunday’s matchup with the Celtics at TD Garden. “Iâm serious. I really mean that. I think, a better version, and Iâm not kidding.”
Rivers enjoyed a 14-year run as an NBA point guardÂ before transitioning into the coaching ranks, even earning an All-Star nod during the 1987-88 season. Smart and Rivers weren’t identical players (the former is roughlyÂ 40 pounds heavier, for one), but the former Celtics coach notices a number of similarities betweenÂ their respective games.
“Heâs a defensive guard, but he can score â thatâs the difference,” Rivers said. “Heâs a big guard, heâs not a pure point. He never really played point in college. Heâs got a strong body, heâs tough and he likes defense. Heâs a really good defensive player. On the ball, off the ball. Yet heâs making plays, too, offensively. I like him a lot.”
Smart’s love for all things defense is a trait few NBA rookies possess.
âItâs rare,” Rivers said. “(Celtics guard Avery Bradley)Â was a little like that. Marcus is a little different than (Bradley). Heâs good. I didnât know him much (before the season). I knew he was going high in the draft, so I knew I didnât have to look at him much. But watching him this summer, youâre watching him and thinking, âOoh, heâs going to be good.’ ”
It also helps that one of the better games of Smart’s young career came against Rivers’ Clippers earlier this season. Smart finishedÂ with 14 points and seven assists off the bench Jan. 19 in a 101-92 Celtics loss at Staples Center.
Thumbnail photoÂ Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports Images