BOSTON — Marcus Smart’s true value is hard to quantify because he makes so many hustle plays you won’t find in a typical NBA box score. But it’s easy to see how much he impacts a game by watching him give maximum effort on every play.
The Boston Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night after closing out their second-round series with a Game 5 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden. Smart’s tenacity, particularly on defense, is a major reason why the Celtics are preparing for the conference finals for the second consecutive campaign.
The veteran guard scored 14 points, highlighted by a 8-for-13 mark at the free throw line, while adding six rebounds, six assists, three steals and a team-high plus-10 rating.
It was the typical all-round performance Smart has become known for throughout his career.
“At the start, when things weren’t going as smooth, I thought he settled us down with his post-ups and play around the rim, and he made some great passes,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Smart.
“He’s made for this. He’s made for these moments, and that’s the thing we keep talking about. We can go through the stat line all you want, when your seasons are on the line and when you’re in the playoffs and you’ve got to do really hard things, he can do really hard things.”
One thing Smart did was seal the win with an amazing defensive play as time expired. After making a free throw to put Boston up 114-112 with 2.4 seconds remaining, Smart followed the eyes of 76ers point guard Ben Simmons and, like an All-Pro NFL safety, intercepted the long inbounds pass.
The game-ending steal wasn’t the only important hustle play by Smart. ESPN’s SportsCenter captured a bunch of them in the video below.
“That’s Marcus Smart’s secret,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said. “That just describes him so well. Tries to miss a free throw, makes it, and the first guy that gets back and gets the steal and puts his body on the line.
“He didn’t care if he ran into somebody or if he hurt himself, he was coming down with that ball. I’ve said it before and Brad (Stevens) has said it, that if it came down to anybody coming up with it, everybody got their money on Smart.”
The Celtics will need many more of these classic Smart performances if they are to dethrone the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the next round.
Smart admitted after Game 5 he wants to guard Cavs superstar LeBron James, and while Stevens likely will use several players to try to slow down the three-time NBA champion, Smart’s play in that matchup could prove pivotal to Boston’s chances of an upset.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports