Marcus Smart has spent the last two seasons trying to shed his reputation as a bad 3-point shooter. To be fair, it was a reputation he built by thudding shots off rims.
But for the past two years he has not been a bad 3-point shooter, even if he is still treated like one. Opponents often spit out snide comments. Smart said that on Tuesday night, after he started the game with a 3-pointer, the Raptors told him he was done, that his lone made shot had come and gone.
“I just had to let them know I had more in the chamber,” Smart said.
For a while, it actually looked like the Raptors were right. Smart was quiet until the fourth quarter. But then, with the Celtics clawing back from a 12-point deficit, Smart hit an open 3-pointer from the right wing, and then he could not miss.
He hit five consecutive shots from beyond the arc over a stretch of 3 minutes, 4 seconds, vaulting Boston into the lead and ultimately propelling it to a 102-99 win, giving it a 2-0 edge in this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
“The first couple of shots I was taking were rimming in and out … ‚” Smart said. “… I just kept telling myself, ’All I need is one to go in and you’ll be right back there.’ ”
Smart finished with 19 points, with 16 coming in that frenetic stretch that included a 4-point play. Jayson Tatum scored a career-playoff-high 34 points and added 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
The Celtics, despite the absence of Gordon Hayward, are now 6-0 in the playoffs, and they have seized control of this series against the defending NBA champions.
Boston led by as many as 6 points after Smart’s powerful flurry. But the finish was tense. With 1:10 left, Tatum was called for an offensive foul, and he then picked up a technical foul for waving his arm in frustration.
Kyle Lowry hit that free throw and added two more when he was fouled, making it 100-99. But at the other end, Kemba Walker shook Serge Ibaka with a stepback jumper with 41.6 seconds left.
The Raptors had a chance to tie in the final seconds, but Fred VanVleet’s desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was off.
Observations from the game:
▪ Entering the night, Celtics coaches stressed to Tatum the importance of making quicker decisions against this pesky Toronto defense.
“You can’t dance and play with the ball,” Tatum said later.
He attacked constantly, particularly in the third quarter, and was ultimately rewarded with 14 free throws. He made all of them.
“When he caught the ball, he went right to what he was trying to get to,” coach Brad Stevens said. “That was a big part of him being able to score the ball tonight.”
Tatum, who attempted 4.7 free throws per game this season, has talked about the importance of getting to the line more frequently. As he gets stronger and craftier and gets more respect from officials as his star rises, double-digit free throw games will become the norm.
▪ Tatum’s late technical foul could have been disastrous. Yes, it was a weird spot in the game to call a technical. But he forcefully swung his arm through the air in frustration, and displays like that have been called technicals all season.
▪ But the forward redeemed himself in the game’s final moments. The Raptors rushed upcourt, trailing by 3, in a scattered situation, and Tatum picked up VanVleet at midcourt. As VanVleet charged forward, Tatum stayed in front of him with a full-speed backpedal. He kept his balance and his awareness and did well to contest the long attempt.
“Tremendous defense by Tatum on the last play,” Stevens said, “because it’s so easy when you’re going in transition to back up inside that three and give a three. But for him to stop outside the three and use his length and not foul, certainly impacted the shot. Really tremendous, and made up for his technical.”
▪ It was a mostly forgettable offensive night for Walker, who was 6 for 18 overall and 1 for 8 on 3-pointers. But he was there when Boston needed him, scoring the Celtics’ last 5 points.
“I’ll tell you what,” Stevens said, “those shots were huge.”
When asked afterward about his struggles, Walker mostly shrugged and said he has been missing shots for years, and that he has never let it affect him. He was most pleased with his defense throughout the game.
▪ Robert Williams checked in for Daniel Theis midway through the first quarter with Boston trailing by 6 and had an instant impact. He had three quick dunks, but lost his balance on the last one, a monstrous follow slam, and landed hard on his tailbone. He briefly left to get an ice wrap but returned and finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and a block. He even added another midrange jumper to his collection of dunks. His emergence remains one of the biggest developments of the bubble for the Celtics. ”He’s the only reason we were in the game in the first quarter,” Stevens said.
▪ Before Smart’s powerful surge, one sequence late in the third quarter looked like it could cost Boston the game. Toronto led, 75-66, when Kyle Lowry came up with a steal and flipped a pass downcourt to VanVleet, who had a layup. Raptors forward Pascal Siakam was initially called for an offensive foul for clearing Smart out of the way. But the Raptors challenged the call, which showed that Smart had initiated the contact. So the layup counted, the foul was switched to Smart, and Siakam got a free throw to extend the lead to 78-66. Smart was actually pleased that the damage was not worse.
“In the past I probably would have gotten a tech,” he said, “but I’m just at the point where my team needs me.”
▪ Marc Gasol scored 47 seconds into the game, giving Toronto a 2-0 lead. That’s notable because it marked the first time in two games between these teams in Orlando that the Raptors held a lead. They had gone 96 minutes, 46 seconds without one.