BOSTON — It took Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart about 10 seconds to inject his tenacious defense into Tuesday night’s Game 5.
As soon as Smart entered off the bench in the first quarter — his first game action since March 11 because of thumb surgery — he dove on the floor for a loose ball to gain possession, which led to a basket for the C’s.
It was the typical hustle play that Smart is known for, and his defense, energy and versatility played a huge factor in the Celtics beating the Bucks 92-87 to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round NBA playoff series.
In 12 first-half minutes, Smart had broken up a Giannis Antetokounmpo alley-oop, tallied one steal, two rebounds, two assists and five points. When Smart entered the game with 4:08 left in the first quarter, the C’s went on a 10-2 run to go up 23-15.
Smart finished with nine points, five rebounds, four assists, three blocks, one steal and a 5-for-5 mark at the free throw line in 25 minutes of action.
“I thought he brought a great deal to the table for us, as he always does,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
With a player like Smart, you cannot judge his performance off the box score. So many of the winning plays he makes, such as deflections, good defensive rotations, contesting shots tough and overall hustle won’t be found in the box score.
It’s something Stevens talked about after the game.
“You can look at the stat sheets all you want, with Marcus it just doesn’t tell the story,” Stevens said. “It’s his energy, it’s his emotion, it’s little plays that turn out to be game-changing plays like diving on the floor and flipping it to Al. The blocks, coming over when Shabazz Muhammad was really rolling and going up vertically and challenging his shot, making him miss. Those are the huge plays. And we have other guys that are making them when he hasn’t been here, but he makes them every night.”
The flip to Al Horford basically sealed the Celtics’ win. Smart found himself on the floor battling three Bucks players for the ball, and he somehow passed it to the C’s center for a layup that increased Boston’s lead to 86-79 with 28.1 seconds remaining.
The initial expectation was that Smart would be back for the Celtics if they advanced to the second round, then it was if a Game 7 was played in Round 1. For him to return even earlier for Game 5 was huge for the Celtics because in a game where so many 50-50 balls led to key possessions, it’s fair to say Boston probably would be heading back to Milwaukee trailing 3-2 in the series if Smart didn’t play Tuesday night.
“It means a lot for our team. I think I said it earlier in the year, he’s the soul of our team,” Celtics center Al Horford said of Smart. “Everything that he brings — his toughness, unselfishness. Just a hard-nosed player, and we fed off his energy (Tuesday night). I thought the crowd fed off it. We fed off of it.
“It’s good to have him back. This has been a genuinely nice surprise for our group because I didn’t think he was coming back. I didn’t want to get my hopes up when I heard it was a possibility. We’re just happy to have him back and he had a huge impact in the game (Tuesday night).”
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports