Last year, Celtics veteran Marcus Smart became the first guard to be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton in 1996. This year, Smart was not one of the 12 players to receive a vote for the honor.
He missed 21 games because of injuries, and he has acknowledged multiple times that his defense this season was not up to his own lofty standards, calling it “mediocre.” Celtics guard Derrick White is considered the more likely of the two to be named to an All-Defensive team later this month.
But Smart had perhaps his finest defensive performance of this season in the Celtics’ Game 1 win over the Hawks on Saturday. And coach Joe Mazzulla believes Smart’s play on that end speaks for itself, even when voters do not have him at the top of a list.
“He’s the kind of guy where even if he doesn’t get an award, you don’t really understand what he’s able to do defensively,” Mazzulla said. “There was even a play last game where he sniffed out the play, came across the entire court, and blew the entire play up. And so he just has natural instincts to have an effect. And I try to tell him, he doesn’t need an award to get that value that we talk about from us, from the staff, because we know what he does for us.”
Odd man out
Grant Williams did not play in Game 1, with Mazzulla opting for an eight-man rotation that included second-year wing Sam Hauser in the final slot.
Williams averaged 25.9 minutes per game this season, but prior to Tuesday night’s Game 2, Mazzulla was noncommittal about whether he would shake up the rotation over the rest of this series.
“I think it’s just more we have a deep team, the ability to play a lot of different ways,” Mazzulla said. “And we’re going to need everybody if we want to win. And so, right now, versus Atlanta, the rotation we had gives us the best chance to win. We’ll continue to do that throughout the playoffs.”
Williams also didn’t get off the bench in the Celtics’ victory in Game 2.
Brogdon a finalist
Guard Malcolm Brogdon is one of three finalists for the Sixth Man of the Year award, along with Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley and Bucks forward Bobby Portis. The winner will be announced Friday night. But Brogdon isn’t overly concerned.
“It’s awesome to be mentioned with those other guys, with two great players that I’ll be competing with,” he said. “But, as I’ve said before, these are team awards. It takes a team to get an All-NBA, to get an All-Star, to get Sixth Man, Defensive Player. So, that’d be great for our organization.”
With longtime NBC Sports Boston play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman unable to travel to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4 of this series because of his recovery from eye surgery, Brian Scalabrine and Eddie House will handle the call. The two teamed up for a few regular-season games this season.
Chad Finn of the Globe staff contributed to this report.