If amusement parks in New England had any good sense, they’d make “The Marcus Smart Experience” a staple of the upcoming season.
Smart’s career has been like a roller coaster, full of twists, turns, ups and downs. More often than not, the Boston Celtics guard’s ups outweigh the downs, but the last week was a tough one in the business of defending one of the NBA’s top defenders.
Smart put his team in several bad situations over the last week. On Tuesday night, it was his head-scratching decision to launch a potential game-winning 3-pointer against the Los Angeles Lakers when he literally might have been the last Celtic on the floor you’d want taking that shot. He missed; the Celtics lost.
The Celtics have to hope Smart’s latest transgression ends up being a “come-to-Jesus” moment for the club’s longest-tenured player. Smart only is 23 years old, but the Celtics need him to take the next step in the maturation process if they’re going to take the next step as a team.
It took just one game into Smart’s absence to realize just how important he is to their long-term success. Bosotn came out swinging Saturday night in a potential NBA Finals preview against the Golden State Warriors, building an early lead while eyeing a season sweep of the defending champs. Stephen Curry wasn’t about to let that happen, though, as the Warriors star went off for a season-high 49 points on 16-of-24 shooting.
That’s quite the improvement on Curry’s Nov. 16 performance against Boston, when he scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting. Granted, foul trouble limited him, but Curry also had to deal with Smart in his hip pocket all night. Smart helped hold Curry scoreless in the final four minutes, and twice in the last 60 seconds denied Curry an opportunity to even get the ball in the Celtics’ eventual win.
In his three previous games against the Celtics entering Saturday night, Curry averaged just 16 points per contest on 36 percent shooting. Since-traded guard Avery Bradley gets some credit for that, too, but it’s hard to overstate how important an elite on-ball defender like Smart is when you’re playing a team like the Warriors.
The Celtics must hope Smart learns that lesson after sitting out Saturday night. The Celtics again proved Saturday night they’re not only a contender to win the Eastern Conference, but also capable of giving the Warriors a series in the NBA Finals. Boston has won three of its last five games against Golden State, and of its five losses to the Warriors since the start of the 2014-15 season, four have come by five points or fewer. There’s something about the way the Celtics defend that gives Golde State problems, and regardless of what Draymond Green thinks, Smart’s a big reason why.
For better or worse, Boston only can get where it wants to go with Smart playing good, intelligent basketball. The player, to his credit, knows that and has admitted as much. Now, he just needs to do it.
Hopefully, for the Celtics’ sake, this latest stretch of boneheaded decisions is what pushes Smart to be the player the Celtics need him to be.