Last week, Celtics guard Marcus Smart pointed out on Twitter that no NBA guard has been named Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996. Considering Smart has been at the heart of the league’s top-ranked defense, there’s been some buzz building around his case.
Smart, a two-time All-Defense first-team pick, said he’s not concerned about winning the award, but he doesn’t understand why backcourt players aren’t considered viable candidates.
“Guards, we do a lot, man,” Smart said. “We switch on the perimeter. We’re guarding three guys at one time, and then we’ve got to funnel them into the big and then try not to get beat off the initial cut.
“And if we do try to recover, and then your big comes and cleans it up and helps you, he gets the credit. But we’re doing a lot of the hard work out front before the guy even gets down to our big. So it’s kind of tough.”
He makes a fair point. There’s a lot that leads up to a blocked shot. Centers are known as rim protectors, and that just sounds important. “Perimeter protector” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
“I just feel that people think that guards can’t make that much of an impact, which makes no sense,” Smart said. “You’re not seeing many big men switching 1-5, but you’re starting to see a lot of guards switching 1-5, or at least 1-4, and being able to hold your own and doing all that hard work before the ball handler or the guy even gets down to the big.”
Smart’s advanced defensive stats don’t really stand out among the Celtics. Boston has held opponents to 104.4 points per 100 possessions with Smart on the floor, but fellow starters Al Horford (102.4), Jaylen Brown (102.9), Jayson Tatum (103), and Robert Williams (103) all have better defensive ratings. When Smart is on the bench, the Celtics’ defensive rating is only slightly worse, at 104.7.
But he does rank sixth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per game, and with apologies to Williams, who has been a menace, no one on this team has had more disruptive, game-altering moments at that end of the floor than Smart.
“Even on my worst night as a defender, I’m still better than some of these defensive guys that are in the race, so that’s kind of crazy,” Smart said. “But that’s just what it is. It’s part of it. As I get older, I just find more ways to get better.”
More Garnett tales
There were so many Kevin Garnett stories flowing in advance of his jersey retirement ceremony Sunday that some ended up on the cutting room floor. But here are two more.
▪ Former Celtics assistant Jamie Young, who’s now with the 76ers, remembers the day he brought his 1-year-old son to practice, and Garnett yelled, “Let me hold him. Let me hold him.”
So Young let Garnett hold him.
“And he picks up my son, who is just staring at KG,” Young said. “And KG was like, ‘What?! You scared of me, boy?!’ I was just like, ‘Hey, can I have my kid back?’ ”
▪ Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren said one of his favorite KG moments was a subtle one. During the 2008 NBA Finals, the Celtics ended up in Los Angeles for nearly a week because of the gap between games. One night, Garnett invited the team’s entire traveling party to a barbecue at his home in Malibu.
“It was just a peaceful spot on the top of a hill overlooking the Pacific,” Zarren said, “and you could really see how content and happy KG was when he was there.”
Backup help needed
On Sunday, the Mavericks blitzed and trapped Tatum as aggressively as any team has this season, and they had good results. Tatum made 7 of 23 shots and Dallas held on for a 95-92 win. Upcoming opponents will likely pull from the Mavericks’ defensive playbook, and it will be important for the other Celtics to make them pay. That secondary attack will start with Brown, who was unable to have a significant impact Sunday, making 6 of 16 shots. “He has to be extra aggressive in those cases,” coach Ime Udoka said. “He’s obviously a high-level scorer and if they dare to blitz off him, we ask him to make the right play, whether that’s scoring or making the pass. And so, at times, it’s not always going to be as smooth as him just going to the basket to score. But he’s capable of it, he’s shown improvement in that area, and so his scoring is needed, especially on nights when they’re trying to take Jayson out of it.”
The Celtics held a 75th anniversary “Welcome Home” dinner Saturday involving about 20 of their alumni. During the ceremony, Hall of Famer Charlie Scott, who won a title with Boston in 1976, said that one is not truly a Celtic until winning a title, and then somewhat jokingly told Udoka that those are the rules. Udoka didn’t dispute his claim. “To hear him say that is just confirmation of what we already knew,” Udoka said. “You see the banners. I talked about it from Day One, the expectations. I don’t mind that at all. Those are good problems to have, and you want to live up to those. All of that pressure is good pressure, and it continues to keep us sharp and keep our eyes on the goal.”