Where Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla Feels Marcus Smart Can Find Playoff Fuel

'I'm a big spite guy'


Apr 18, 2023

BOSTON — Celtics guard Marcus Smart was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year a full calendar year ago Tuesday night, but that was far from the case in 2023.

In fact, Smart wasn’t even granted a single vote following the regular season, finishing behind 10 players including Jarren Jackson Jr. (the winner), Draymond Green, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Alex Caruso among others. But rather than challenge the voters, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla felt as though his scrappy, defensive-minded team leader needed no league validation to recognize what he brings to the table on a night-to-night-basis.

“He’s the kind of guy where even when he doesn’t get an award, you don’t really understand what he’s able to do defensively,” Mazzulla said prior to Game 2 against the Atlanta Hawks. “… He just has natural instincts to have an effect. And I try to tell him he doesn’t need an award to get that value that we talk about from us and staff because we know what he does for us.”

While it’s unknown where Smart felt he fell into the running, he did acknowledge a challenge stumping him from replicating last season’s defensive success, co-signing the critiques against NBA officials which were made by Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet back in March.

Smart finished fourth in steals per game (1.5) among all guards in the NBA and 16th in blocks (0.6) among that same crew. His biggest statistical drop came in Smart’s defensive rating which stood at 107.1 at the end of 2022, then 111.7 at the end of this season.

Mazzulla went as far as to make his stance clear and revealed that he believes Smart will turn the voters’ doubt into a positive throughout the playoffs — something he’s all for.

“I’m a big spite guy, so yeah,” Mazzulla said.

The Atlanta Hawks certainly felt Smart’s defensive presence after he recorded three steals and two blocks en route to a Celtics Game 1 victory to begin their first-round playoff series last Saturday. Both teams will meet again Tuesday at TD Garden to continue their best-of-seven matchup.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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