ORLANDO — The reason Marcus Smart will never have to buy another beer in Boston, the reason he will remain beloved in that town far past his playing days, and the reason he may even get his No. 36 retired is his refusal to listen to those who doubt him, those who tell him to stop shooting or not to go for that steal, or to just chill.
Smart has no chill. He doesn’t listen to you. If he did, he wouldn’t be here, the starting guard on a team that’s two wins from the Eastern Conference finals. He’s one of the more indispensable players in the NBA, a treasure in Boston for so many reasons.
He saved the Celtics Tuesday at The Field House in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Toronto Raptors.
Boston was playing a mistake-filled, ragged first three quarters and found itself down 12 points before Jayson Tatum ended the third with 4 points.
With the Celtics desperately needing a spark to start the fourth, Smart, who was 1-for-7 shooting, nailed barrage of 3-pointers that changed the game, sending the Raptors reeling.
Smart then helped contain the Raptors with defense in the final eight minutes as the Celtics prevailed, 102-99. They lead the best-of-seven series, 2-0.
In typical, unpredictable fashion, Smart scored 16 consecutive points on five 3-pointers in a span of 3 minutes, 4 seconds. By the time he was finished, the Celtics went from trailing by 8 to leading, 86-85, after he capped his run with a 4-point play. He scored 19 points for the game.
Smart is just 26, but it seems as if he’s been in Boston for 12 years. He is the senior member of the team. He was Brad Stevens’s first draft pick, and while there have been players in his draft class who have scored more points or made All-Star teams, Smart has brought a unique and unquestioned value to this franchise.
His confidence is unwavering and his determination insurmountable, so the Celtics can accept and almost embrace his boneheaded (at times) or overeager plays because in the end, Smart will help you win far more often than lose.
“I ain’t never played with nobody like Smart; I ain’t never met nobody like Smart,” Tatum said. “He is one of a kind. Anybody that watches him play, knows him or ever plays with him knows there’s nobody like Smart. Any time I’m going to war, I’ll take him on my team every day of the week.”
What was extraordinary about Smart’s performance is he did not attempt another shot in the final 5:48 after missing a 3-pointer. He watched as Kemba Walker scored 9 of the Celtics’ final 14 points to seal the game. Smart’s work on offense was done.
He concentrated on defense, as the Raptors missed 16 of 21 shots in the fourth quarter. Late in the game, Smart assumed his role as defensive ace by blocking a Pascal Siakam layup with 35.8 seconds left and the Celtics up 3, and nearly saving the ball to a teammate.
‘“I ain’t never played with nobody like Smart; I ain’t never met nobody like Smart. He is one of a kind. Anybody that watches him play, knows him or ever plays with him knows there’s nobody like Smart. Any time I’m going to war, I’ll take him on my team every day of the week.”’
Jayson Tatum on Marcus Smart
Smart tippy-toed the baseline as he whipped the ball behind his back. It was the type of play only a handful of NBA players make, and Smart is at the top of that list.
But rewind to that 3-point barrage. Smart’s 3-point shooting during his years in Boston has been a melodrama in itself. He takes plenty. He used to miss plenty. But now he doesn’t miss nearly as many. He takes them without hesitation, following through with his right arm as if he’s waiting to hear that swish.
On Tuesday, the basket looked the size of a kiddie pool in the fourth quarter. And Smart, as he always does, felt the streak coming.
“I was just telling myself, the first half, the shots I was taking were rimming in and out,” he said. “I just kept telling myself, all you need is one to go in and you’ll be right back there. Once I saw the first one go in, I knew the next time I catch it, I’m shooting it if I’m open. They just keep telling me, ‘We need you to be you and make some big plays,’ and that’s what I did.”
Smart said he heard quips from Raptors players, telling him that he used all of his good shooting fortune in Game 1, when he hit five 3-pointers.
“I just had to let them know I had a couple of more in the chamber,” Smart said. “That’s just me, growing up I’ve always had confidence. I believe in myself. I always have and I always will.”
And what has been fascinating about the Smart years in Boston is he never ceases to continue showing how truly valuable he is. He never stops making those intangible plays or taking the big 3-pointer or even the occasional foolish miscue.
But that’s what makes Smart so unique and so essential to the Celtics’ culture. Opposing players who may have despised Smart for his physicality, propensity to flop, and aggressiveness learn to love those traits when they get to Boston. They fall in with the rest of the Celtics faithful.
“It’s only one Marcus Smart, I’m going to tell you that much now,” Walker said. “It’s only one. A different beast. That dude is unbelievable. I say it all the time, he’s a monster. I love playing with that dude. His intensity is unmatched. He’s just really fun to be on the court with. He just raises our level.”