Marcus Smart could not have started his first NBA preseason with a much worse performance early this month. And he could not have concluded it with a much more efficient game, going for 16 points and four assists in 15 minutes, 38 seconds of the Celtics’ 100-86 victory over the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night.
Smart missed all eight of his field goal attempts in the Celtics’ preseason opener, a 98-78 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Oct. 6, and said he felt out of place.
Now, although Smart’s shooting percentage remains low, he is fitting in and feeling comfortable.
“My confidence is very high right now — especially from Game 1,” Smart said. “I didn’t shoot the ball real well — 0 for 8 — didn’t really feel like I belonged out there, [but] kept playing and my teammates kept me up.”
Smart seems transformed since that nightmarish debut. Against the Nets, Smart did not hesitate to assert himself on offense, drilling a 3-pointer 32 seconds into the action. Smart continued to fire away from distance — he was 2 for 5 on 3-pointers, capping his performance with a 3-pointer and steal in the final 15 seconds of the first half — but was most impressive driving to the lane on a 5-for-8 shooting night.
Asked about Smart’s shot selection, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said: “I would argue maybe one [bad] shot, right in front of our bench, right in front of me. But the other ones were really good. And you know what? Part of that is, and I kind of like it, because he’s always aggressive, so you can live with a bad shot here or there. He was good. That being said, they had really good players out there — they’re all NBA guys. They’ll be playing different guys in a week from now. You’ll see a much different game I’m sure, next Wednesday. But I thought he did a good job in the first half.”
Smart said he has been able to find a groove at point guard, thanks to his days at Oklahoma State.
“So far it’s been very comfortable. Staying in college those three years, running the team, and running the point guard position, helped me a lot as far as preparing,” he said.
Before Wednesday, Smart was shooting 26.9 percent from the field. But he does not seem to be easily discouraged.
“Just keep playing the way I’m playing, my shots are going to fall,” Smart said. “And I’m working every day, just like everyone else here in this locker room.”
Smart is gaining the support of his teammates in a crowded backcourt, which includes Avery Bradley, Phil Pressey, Rajon Rondo, Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner.
“He still has a lot to do,” Gerald Wallace said. “One thing we knew, he was physical, he was tough, and he was competitive. I think he showed that all throughout preseason.
“It’s going to be a long year for him because this is the NBA. He hasn’t played 82 games probably in two college seasons together.
“This is going to be a long season for him, he’s going to have his ups and downs, he can’t drop his head. He’s got to continue play and continue to push forward and I think he’ll be all right.”