BOSTON — Former Celtics guard Marcus Smart returned to TD Garden on Sunday night for the first time since being traded this past offseason to the Memphis Grizzlies, and the reception was exactly as expected.

Boston honored Smart with a video tribute in the first quarter, compacting the 29-year-old’s nine-year run with the organization into a handful of highlights and memories. That led to an uproar of Celtics fans chanting, “We want Marcus” from courtside to the balcony. Smart saluted the thousands in attendance expressing their gratitude to the once-homegrown product that was selected sixth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Although Smart didn’t play due to a finger injury, the love for one of the team’s all-time fan favorite never left the building.

“It was special to be able to share those moments with him,” Horford said after Boston’s 131-91 victory over Memphis. “I knew the crowd was going to be very grateful and appreciative, and they were. They were great. They really showed their appreciation. … Boston has real love for Marcus.”

Story continues below advertisement

Horford, who initially joined the Celtics in 2016 through free agency, referenced Smart as a critical part of why he signed with Boston.

“It was just how hard he played, how hard he competed and (he) really tried to go out there and put his body on the line, night in and night out,” Horford added. “It’s something that as an opponent, you respected and as a teammate, you appreciate.”

    What do you think?  Leave a comment.

After Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla pulled all of Boston’s starters while convincingly ahead of Memphis, 105-81, the chants returned. Fans stood back on their feet and shouted, “Thank you, Marcus,” throughout the fourth quarter, even sticking around a few extra moments before Smart walked off the floor with the Grizzlies.

For nearly a decade, Smart earned Boston’s respect. The fans quickly took notice of that regardless of where the Celtics stood, whether that’d be as a humbling No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference during his 2014-15 rookie season or in the NBA Finals in 2022, Smart’s pride and effort were always consistent. He treated every loose ball like it was for all the marbles and turned a nine-year tenure into one that felt like 20 seasons — somehow.

Story continues below advertisement

That’s what made it difficult for fans to come to terms with Smart’s necessary offseason departure, yet the appreciation remains in place, as it did from the first quarter to the final buzzer on Sunday.

“Marcus Smart was the fan favorite,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said. “Everybody knew that the way he played, he wore his heart on his sleeve and every night he gave it his all. We have very smart fans and they saw that and they appreciated it. It was just really cool to see. Happy for him, surprised he didn’t cry. That was special.”

Tatum added: “I spent six years with Smart. That’s like a brother to me.”

Ending the season series with Memphis, Smart will have to wait until next season (at least) to make an official on-court return to Boston.

Story continues below advertisement

Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images