NEW YORK — Celtics guard Marcus Smart twisted his ankle when he took a bad step onto the foot of Philadelphia center Joel Embiid in the first half of the Celtics’ win over the 76ers on Feb. 15. Smart fell to the ground and appeared to be in significant pain before he was eventually helped to the locker room by two teammates.
Smart missed the Celtics’ game against the Pistons the following night, but the All-Star break landed at the perfect time, and Smart was cleared to return for Thursday’s 129-106 victory against the Nets. He finished with 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting from 3-point range to go along with 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals in 30 minutes of action
“Obviously the night of the injury was pretty harsh for me,” Smart said. “Couldn’t put any pressure on it. But [during] the break I was able to get [outside], got in the pool, did some pool things to help with the work on it. The swelling’s going down. Right now just dealing with a bone bruise on it. But it feels good. We did everything that we were supposed to do to check it, test it out, make sure I was ready to go before going out there.”
Smart had a noticeable limp after the team’s shootaround on Thursday morning, but he said that was simply because of some lingering soreness related to the bone bruise, and not any structural issue.
“I know what I can and can’t play through and the way it will affect me in the long run,” Smart said. “It’s part of the game that you sign up for. It’s part of that contract you sign that you dedicate your life to do this, to do any physical activity. You know injuries are going to happen and you’ve got to be willing to deal with the consequences.”
The Celtics went 11-1 after Smart returned to the lineup after being sidelined because of a thigh contusion. Then they lost to the Pistons last week without him. Smart said he’s eager to ignite a new streak, and to see the Celtics gain some momentum over the final 22 games of the regular season.
“We’re locked in,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury to take a deep breath right now. We know it’s not going to be perfect and we understand that things aren’t always going to go your way. As long as you go out there and give everything you got, nine times out of 10 it should work in your favor.”
Room for improvement
During the All-Star break Celtics coach Ime Udoka took a deep dive into his team’s play over the first half of the season. He noticed that as the season progressed, the ball movement improved. The addition of Derrick White will only help this shift, and Udoka is hopeful that it will continue.
“It’s a pretty simple formula: Don’t play in a crowd,” he said. “I’ve said it from Day One, Jaylen [Brown] and Jayson [Tatum] are going to attract a lot of attention. Sometimes it’s one less dribble, penetrating and playing the crowd. An area we can continue to improve on is our turnovers. That and defensive rebounding are the two areas in the last 10 games we haven’t been great at, and we had improved the middle of the year in those areas.”
Williams up to challenge
The Celtics play a switch-heavy defensive scheme that essentially allows opponents to pick their preferred matchups, but also allows Boston’s players to remain in lockstep when they do. Some teams have looked to isolate center Robert Williams against their quicker, smaller guards, and Udoka said he was a bit surprised by that approach because Williams can hold his ground and can also make up for mistakes with his elite shot-blocking.
“They’re trying to do something that’s not to their advantage or something they don’t really go to much,” Udoka said. “Playing against Boston last year when I was here in the playoffs [as a Nets assistant], Rob was a guy we tried to stay away from, like most teams do. So if you want to actually bring him in the action, he’s obviously one of our best defenders, so we feel confident with that.”