Marcus Smart did Marcus Smart things. Again.
The Toronto Raptors cut the Boston Celtics’ 10-point lead to two points, taking over momentum and, even more importantly, having the opportunity to tie up the game with 58 seconds left.
Toronto’s Pascal Siakam hauled in a defensive rebound after Jayson Tatum’s drive to the rim was off the mark. Siakam found teammate Norman Powell, who took the ball the length of the floor, committed to going to his left when he got to half court only to see Smart matching him stride-for-stride.
Smart then did what he always does. He made arguably the most important play of the game, blocking Powell at the rim and saving a game-altering basket. (You can watch the play here.)
He explained what was going through his mind after the Celtics’ claimed the 92-87 win in Game 7, ultimately advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“As soon as Norman caught the ball, instantly I remembered last game where that exact same play came full court and he got the and-1 in the same type of standard where, close game, and it put them up I think three,” Smart said, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “So, when he caught the ball in my mind I’m just telling myself ‘He has to dunk it. I’m not going to give him no foul, I’m just going to meet him up top and see who wins that battle.’
“I bet on myself 100 percent of the time,” Smart continued. “And I’m first team All-Defense for a reason. I believe that wholeheartedly.”
Smart contributed three steals to go along with his one block. He also helped the Celtics defense force 18 turnovers with 12 steals as a team. That specific play, however, was what stuck out in the minds of head coach Brad Stevens and Kemba Walker.
“I thought two best plays of the night were Smart’s block and Tatum’s (offensive) rebound,” Stevens said, per NBC Sports Boston. “Those were both incredible effort plays by two of our best players.
“The hustle, the block, the toughness,” Stevens added of Smart. “He had a couple loose balls, he almost came up with another couple rebounds there towards the end of the game. Yeah, I mean he’s a huge part of our team. He’s a huge part of organization.”
Walker said much of the same.
“That block was, that block was so special. It was unreal,” Walker said. “This is why he’s first team All-Defense. He shows it night in and night out. He made so many huge plays tonight. A lot of the things he does just goes unnoticed. But that kid, he’s special. He’s on a different level on the basketball court.”
Here are some other notes from Friday’s win:
— Of note, the other play Stevens was referencing was Tatum’s offensive rebound after a missed foul shot by Grant Williams. It helped Tatum go back to the free throw line, where he made one of two to give the Celtics a 90-87 lead with 34.9 second left.
— Despite a slow start from Walker, who took just two shots in his first 17 minutes, the point guard finished strong by scoring eight of his 14 points in the fourth.
Stevens was happy to see Walker play well down the stretch, as well as advance to his first conference finals.
“I’m really happy for him. He deserves to experience this,” Stevens said of Walker. “He’s everything that’s good about basketball. He loves the game, he’s a great teammate. He doesn’t care if he gets any of the glory, like he’s just a special guy. Guys like that deserve to play on these stages, for all the marbles and I’m glad he gets to keep doing it.”
— Rookie Grant Williams was forced to play some key minutes down the stretch when center Daniel Theis fouled out. And he did so admirably, playing strong defense on what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer by Toronto’s Fred VanVleet.
“He’s not even a rookie the way he plays, the way he sees the game, the way he comes in the game and brings energy,” Smart said of Williams. “For him to come in the game like that, Game 7, a rookie, to come up with that play, the fact that he was even in the mix to come up with that rebound was incredible.”
— Celtics’ fans may have had their hearts skip a beat with 9:40 left in the fourth quarter when Jaylen Brown went down with what looked to be a knee injury.
Brown never left the game, explaining that he was able to stay in due to his adrenaline. He admitted he was feeling the injury a bit more after the game.
The Celtics will take the floor next Tuesday for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images