ORLANDO — He bricked a pair of free throws hard off the back iron, then jacked a 3-pointer on the next possession that missed the same way. He passed the ball right to a guard on the opposing team that led to a fast-break opportunity. He had a layup try swatted at the rim.
Yes, in the first half Saturday, Celtics rookie guard Marcus Smart struggled, showing some definite nerves in his NBA debut as his team opened summer league play against the Miami Heat.
But in the second half, Smart, the Celtics’ No. 6 overall pick out of Oklahoma State, heard the same message from his teammates and coaches.
“They said, ‘You can still do you. Just play ball and have fun. Just go out there,’ ” Smart said. “And that’s what I did. I just decided to go play.”
And so he did.
Smart calmed down, picked up his game, and helped his team to an 85-77 win, finishing with 10 points — all in the second half — on 2-for-8 shooting. He added 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists, and just 1 turnover in nearly 28 minutes of action .
“First half, I was a little nervous, a little bit,” Smart said. “It was my first pro game with a new group of guys. It was a little nerve-racking.”
But aside from early jitters, Smart showcased his defensive tenacity and overall competitiveness, along with the need to improve his jump shot.
“Marcus did a lot of things that he’s done in the three, four days of practice that we had,” said Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, who is coaching Boston’s summer league squad for the second straight year. “[He] plays with a tremendous intensity, he’s a great teammate and he showed that from the beginning.
“He’s a big part of the reason we played so well as a team, I thought, on both ends of the floor. He had some great help defense plays that you wouldn’t expect a 20-year-old to be able to do, but he has a really good idea of team basketball, which is really exciting to us.
Larranaga added, “You just love his toughness. He’s as tough as can be. He gets through screens. He dives on the floor. We had one play — and I’m not even sure if he was one of the guys diving on the floor — but we had like three guys dive on the floor. That’s the stuff that’s fun, that you get excited about, because that’s how coach [Brad] Stevens’s teams play. You have people that are buying into what you believe is the right way to play and the right way to win games.”
Smart and Phil Pressey started and shared point guard duties, though when they were on the court together, Smart played shooting guard.
“Which I was totally fine with,” Smart said. “I kind of got to get out in the open court and use my athleticism and physicality. I was fine with that, but I was also fine playing [point guard] when they moved me to it and gave Phil a break.”
Several of his game-high five steals came off help defense, as Larranaga said, and Smart acknowledged that his defense is ahead of his offense.
“I think so,” he said. “I was born and raised playing defense. Every team I’ve played with has been a defensive-minded team first before I was playing offense. It was always defense.”
Larranaga didn’t want to sell Smart short on that end, though.
“I think he’s an all-around player,” Larranaga said. “He’s about winning, I think is what you see. He’s not about one thing or another thing. It’s, ‘What do we need to do to win? If it’s a rebound, I’ll get that. If it’s a stop, I’ll do that. If it’s make a shot, make a free throw, I’ll do that, too.’ Like any young guy, he has a lot of stuff to work on, but the really exciting thing is that he just wants to win.”
Center Colton Iverson, the Celtics’ second-round draft pick in 2013 who played overseas last season, had a nice game with 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Forward Mike Moser added 17 points off the bench.
But Smart and the Celtics received their biggest boost from Kelly Olynyk, their 2013 first-round selection who starred in the summer league here last year. He picked up where he left off, scoring 6 of the team’s first 10 points.
The former Gonzaga standout finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting. He added team-high eight rebounds and four steals in 31:37 of play.
And like his teammates and coaches, Olynyk came away impressed with Smart.
“He’s got a real bright future,” Olynyk said. “He’s a real competitor, plays so hard, [has] got great ball skills, can finish in the paint, shoot the ball.
“As his shot develops more and more and more, he’s going to be a huge threat on the floor.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.