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tara sullivan

Marcus Smart’s comments are a red flag after Celtics’ collapse against Bulls

The faces of (left to right) Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford tell the story late in Monday's loss to Chicago.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Marcus Smart isn’t wrong. The late-game hero ball that his top-tier Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum (No. 1 offender) and Jaylen Brown (a close second) too often revert to is definitely a problem.

Funny, though, that Smart went public with his frustration over J&J’s combined unwillingness to pass late in games in the aftermath of Monday night’s meltdown against Chicago. That disaster — in which the Celtics coughed up a 19-point lead, were on the wrong end of a 39-11 fourth-quarter score, and got so comfortable thinking they could coast that they forgot to play defense — clearly showed that the problems run deeper than late-game passing decisions.


Smart didn’t help much either, as a point guard with zero assists in 33 minutes.

Yet the veteran absolutely sent up a red flag on this young season, one that doesn’t get any easier with three road games in four days coming up. By calling out teammates so publicly, Smart may have exposed internal chemistry issues that could derail the promise this core group has been teasing fans with for the better part of four seasons.

They’ve pushed Danny Ainge out, moved Brad Stevens upstairs, and brought in Ime Udoka to coach, but still the difficulty in closing out games persists.

Smart has a theory on why.

“Every team knows we’re trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen,” he said. “Every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen, and I think everyone’s scouting report is to make those guys try to pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball.”

With that statement coming not long after Smart said, “I can only do so much just standing in the corner,” the frustration is evident. But before we turn this into some deep rift in the locker room, Smart wasn’t done talking about Brown and Tatum.


“That’s something they’re going to learn,” he said. “They’re still learning and we’re proud of the progress they’re making. But they’re going to have to make another step and find ways not only to create for themselves but create for others on this team to open up the court for them later down in the game, where they don’t always have to take those tough shots or tough matchups that when they do get the one-on-one and bring the trap.

“It’s something we’ve been asking for them to do. And they’re learning. We’ve got to continue to help those guys to do that and help our team.”

Bottom line, though, remains the same. The Celtics go as far as Tatum and Brown take them.

Smart might have a point that when defenses shut down the initial plays run toward Brown and Tatum, that the Celtics have to “abort that and find another way to get them the ball in the spots that they need the ball,” it is also true that bona fide elite stars make the late-game plays regardless.

We definitely need to stay tuned to this one.

For all the refreshing candor from Smart, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was just the opposite Monday — evasive, unfeeling, cold, and completely tone deaf in a Zoom call with reporters.

In defending the league’s actions in the wake of Kyle Beach’s sexual assault case against the Blackhawks — the meager fine, the sympathy to the franchise owners, the deference to coach Joel Quenneville and his opportunity to resign on his own terms, the ongoing employment of Kevin Cheveldayoff — Bettman embarrassed himself and further insulted Beach.


Of all the monotone, robotic comments, maybe this one irked me the most: “We could not be more sorry for the trauma that Kyle has had to endure. And our goal is to do what is necessary to continue to move forward.”

Translation: We don’t want to look back and figure out what really went wrong. We just want it to appear like we did. And we’d prefer if you’d let us forget it now so we can get on with the business of hockey.

Bettman shouldn’t be let off the hook. Allan Walsh, a player agent and co-managing director of Octagon-Hockey, tweeted an interesting thread Tuesday morning, quoting several NHL owners as “very concerned and unhappy” with Bettman’s leadership and adding his own belief that “it’s time for a change in the NHL and culture only changes from the top down.”

I’m still grinning over Bruce Arena’s admission about the state of the Revolution when he took over the team in 2019. As he awaits Sunday’s regular-season finale against Miami, after which the Revolution will officially collect their first Supporters’ Shield — clinched with a franchise-record point total — Arena said this:

“It’s kind of remarkable. I said to that team, ‘What a [expletive] show I inherited in May of 2019.’ To think how far they’ve come is kind of remarkable. It really is.”


Imagine if Bill Belichick had said that? National headlines. The best part, of course, is that it’s true. Arena has done an incredible job rebuilding the team, and the playoffs should be fun.

I walked away from the Patriots’ win at SoFi Stadium Sunday thinking that although Mac Jones hadn’t played his best game, I might have been the most impressed by him as I’ve been this season. In addition to saving his best work for when it counted most — completing four straight passes en route to the field goal that proved vital in icing the win — Jones had great perspective afterward.

“We finished strong and that’s the moral of the story,” he said. “It feels a lot better to be on the winning side and not playing well than to be on the losing side.”

Progress delayed is still progress, so let’s all give a begrudging round of applause to the International Handball Federation, which, according to the New York Times, changed the rule that had required women to wear bikini bottoms while men were allowed to wear shorts for beach handball. As the Times wrote, “According to the new rules, which were published Oct. 3 and will go into effect on Jan. 1, ‘Female athletes must wear short tight pants with a close fit.’ ”

Prior to that, women were required to wear bikini bottoms with sides no more than 4 inches high and that had “a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg.”


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @Globe_Tara.