BOSTON — Marcus Smart missed over a month of action with a knee injury, so Brad Stevens’ plan has been to ease the Boston Celtics point guard back into things.
“I still don’t think Marcus is ready to play a large number of minutes,” the Celtics coach admitted before Saturday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.
That strategy changed by way of necessity Saturday afternoon. After Avery Bradley went down with a left hip contusion in the second quarter, Stevens turned to Smart to fill the void. The Celtics didn’t win, but the 21-year-old was one of the bright spots, tallying 11 points and three steals in 24:28 minutes of action while keeping the Celtics in it with some aggressive defense in the fourth quarter.
“He played a lot of minutes, played hard,” Stevens said of Smart. “His competitiveness was why he was in the game so long, and I couldn’t take him out. That’s just who he is; we really like that about him. Losing Avery early in the game added some minutes to Marcus’ stint, so that was just the way it went (Saturday). But I thought he did some good things.”
Smart had played just 24 minutes combined in the team’s previous two games since returning from injury. The fact that he handled the extra workload is a good sign for a Celtics team that could use his energy and defensive prowess.
Let’s hit a few other notes from Celtics-Nets:
— The Celtics got exposed down low for the second time in as many games.
Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle came up big Wednesday in his team’s win over Boston, and Saturday it was Brook Lopez’s turn. The Nets center exploded for a career-high 30 points on 11 of 24 shooting and scored at will against several of the Celtics’ big men. He also ripped down 13 rebounds.
“They smashed us in the paint,” Stevens said. “It’s really the second straight game, when you think about Julius Randle just putting us in the basket, and obviously (Lakers forward) Brandon (Bass) had a couple of those physical dunks. We just have to play more physical. That’s a given.”
— Boston now has lost back-to-back games to two of the NBA’s worst teams and has struggled against bad clubs several times this season. Isaiah Thomas is not happy with that trend.
“We’re definitely not one of the best teams in the NBA, so I don’t get how we can possibly think it’s OK to play down to anybody,” Thomas said. “When we don’t play hard and we’re not the aggressive team, we’re one of the worst teams in the NBA. But when we bring that aggressiveness and we’re having fun and we’re defending, we’re one of the top teams in the NBA, and I think a lot of people see that.”
— As previously mentioned, Bradley left the game with a bruised left hip in the first half and didn’t return. Stevens didn’t have an update on his guard after the game.
Nets guard Jarrett Jack also suffered a nasty-looking leg injury in the second half, but Brooklyn announced it was just a right knee sprain.
— On a lighter note: Evan Turner had a pretty phenomenal quote before the game in an interview with Chris Mannix on CSN New England.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images