Marcus Smart approached Wednesday night’s 109-102 overtime win against the Detroit Pistons at TD Garden as if it were his first organized game. The guard had been out of the Celtics’ lineup for more than three weeks because of a sprained left ankle.
Smart made his first appearance since Nov. 7 with 10:28 left in the second period and played five minutes in his first stint and only stint. He missed all of his three 3-point attempts, and collected two assists and two fouls, a welcome sight for the sagging Celtics.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens did not play Smart in the second half.
“I didn’t think he looked ready,” Stevens said. “Nothing to do physically. He hasn’t practiced. I felt like it would be better to go with Phil [Pressey] and Gerald [Wallace].”
Smart said before the game, “I’m pleased with the progress; I’m not saying I’m 100 percent but it’s doable for me,” Smart said of his return. “There’s going to be pain for a couple of weeks but if I can play through it and it’s not going to affect what I’m doing out there then I’m going to give it a shot. I feel like it’s my first game ever. I’m interested to see what I can do out there.”
Smart said he has been doing basketball activities for the past few days, although he has yet to officially practice with the team since before his injury. Smart said he did not tape his ankles the night he sustained the injury against the Pacers.
Smart underwent a CT scan on the ankle that was negative. He said he sustained a bone bruise and some nerve irritation.
“I just wanted to make sure we didn’t miss anything,” he said. “I wanted to make sure for both parties before I even tried [to play].”
Stevens was as angry and disappointed as he has been after a loss following Tuesday night’s 109-105 defeat by the Hawks in Atlanta. The Celtics led by 23 in the first half, 16 at halftime, and 22 in the second half but were outscored, 59-39, in the final two quarters.
Stevens said the words “physical” or “physicality” seven times during his six-minute news conference following the game, implying that his team didn’t impose its will as Atlanta rallied. After several hours to reflect, Stevens challenged his team.
“I know I used the word physical a lot, I think we need to play through contact better on both ends of the floor,” Stevens said. “And I do think we have to make strides responding to adversity.”
The Celtics had lost 11 games before Wednesday night and had the lead, were tied, or were within 5 points in the fourth quarter in eight of those losses. Tuesday night, the Celtics actually battled back from a 9-point deficit with 3:35 left and had a chance to tie before Jeff Green’s jumper rimmed out in the final 10 seconds.
If there was a high level of insecurity before Tuesday, it was exacerbated by the collapse against Atlanta. The Celtics were outscored, 57-31, in the final 22:40.
“Does this team need to learn how to win? Man, I’ve been bristling at the question because you want to be able to get over the hump,” Stevens said. “Maybe there is some of that. One of the responsibilities that I feel that I have is we’ve got to get some of these young guys to become those guys. We’ve got to get some of those young guys, whether they’re ready for it or not, to be a guy that is making a play.
“If you really watch the first half [Tuesday] we were in a really good rhythm but they went to a different level in the second half and we have to be able to play through that. We have to get better doing that.”
When asked who is the team’s primary scoring option in the fourth quarter, Stevens said, “It’s gotta be by committee.”
Evan Turner said the players have to take Stevens’s words and turn them into action.
“Obviously he doesn’t have the personality to say stuff if he doesn’t see it that way,” Turner said. “You really have to pay the appropriate amount of attention to it. We definitely have to, once again, take it upon ourselves to be able to execute our offense, to run our plays.”
The Celtics have become prone to going away from their base offense as the game progresses, choosing more individual plays and contested jump shots.
“You go with the flow of the game and the one thing is we probably could have done a better job of running,” Turner said. “It’s tough. You have to figure it out. Sometimes each game is going to be different. We have to know when to push and when to slow down.”
Turner was quite critical of Kyle Korver’s defense after Tuesday night’s game. Korver played nearly 38 minutes and was not whistled for a foul while Turner was called for what he felt was an unwarranted loose-ball foul in the third quarter.
Turner said he does not regret criticizing Korver’s defense.
“I gave him his due, I said he played great, he played well,” Turner said of Korver, who scored 24 points on six 3-pointers. “I wasn’t being disrespectful. I thought he played great and I have a great respect for him.”
Turner said the Celtics need to establish a more physical reputation and perhaps that will result in more respect from officials.
“For example, like Memphis, you start to get known for that and sometimes you can get away with certain stuff,” he said.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.