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Celtics’ Marcus Smart works to set a good example

The Celtics' Marcus Smart has been a driving force for the team in three summer league games. Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — During the Celtics’ summer league game here against the Blazers on Saturday, a loose ball headed toward the sideline and Marcus Smart headed toward the loose ball.

The second-year guard has shown that it does not matter that this is not the regular season. He has attacked the rim, slammed against the floor, and chased basketballs like they were shopping carts rolling down a hill. That is essentially what was happening at this moment.

As Smart reached the sideline, he had a slight collision with 21-year-old Shon Darby, who was watching the game from a wheelchair. He stopped to make sure Darby was not hurt, patted him on the shoulder, and continued on. But after the game, clearly, the moment had stuck with him.


When Smart and Lakers rookie D’Angelo Russell came out to watch the Nets face the Cavaliers, Smart struck up a conversation with Darby. They spoke for about 30 minutes and Smart used a cellphone to take a picture of the two together.

“Last year, I got knocked over twice and the players were whatever with it,” Darby said. “For him to come over and acknowledge me, that was really cool.”

At dinner with his agent that night, Smart told him about their conversation, about what that one simple act had meant to the young man. “It’s crazy that the littlest things can have such a big impact,” Smart said.

As he enters his second NBA season, Smart is showing a different level of maturity, self-awareness, and leadership. His skills have clearly developed, too, and that is probably concerning for opponents.

Through three summer league games, he is averaging 22.3 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds. In other areas, his impact has been less obvious but just as important.

During the regular season, most NBA teams schedule two bus departures to an arena on game days. And then there are players who prefer to arrive before both. Last season Smart saw how veterans Brandon Bass and Isaiah Thomas would go to the gym by themselves — well before the buses — as part of their pregame routines.


So during these summer leagues — first in Salt Lake City and now here in Las Vegas — Smart has been the one taking a taxi to the arenas long before tip-off.

By the time his intense pregame workouts are complete, he is drenched in sweat. The sessions are important for Smart, but they also set an example for this young team comprised of recent draft picks and undrafted free agents. Here is a player who already knows what it takes to succeed in the NBA, and he is showing the others how it is done.

“You’ve got to put in the time and the work, and Marcus is putting in the work,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. “That’s the kind of leadership he needs to show, but it’s also what he needs to reach his full potential. I wish all of our players would do that.”

The Celtics understand that this is just a summer league, however, and that there is no reason to overwork one of the potential cornerstones of their franchise. This is also an important evaluation period, and the team’s executives already know Smart’s capabilities.

So he has missed two of Boston’s five games so far. For the Celtics, these decisions are easy. For Smart, the ultra-competitor, it has been impossible to sit idly on a bench while basketball is being played.


“He understands there are things bigger than this,” Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry said. “But he wants to play. And you can tell by the way he competes every single time. For him, every single game is a playoff game against the Cavs.”

After Smart missed the Celtics’ game against the 76ers in Utah last week, head coach Brad Stevens noted the difference in communication, saying that he “couldn’t hear a peep” out of the team without Smart.

In fact, during games in which Smart is on the bench in street clothes, he is still the most vocal Celtic. He jumps from his seat to cheer big moments and to shout instructions as he sees plays develop. It is partly because he is such a steely competitor and cannot stand to see his team lose, and partly because he wants to share his knowledge.

“It just makes you play harder,” said Celtics first-round pick Terry Rozier. “Being with him is special. Even if he’s not playing, you just feel his presence in the room. He’s leading us, but he’s also talking to us. It’s great to have him around this early in the process.”

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The Celtics will play Real Madrid in a preseason game in Madrid on Oct. 8. That will follow an Oct. 6 game against Olimpia Milano in Milan. Tickets for the game against Real Madrid go on sale July 17.


Gary Washburn of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.