fb-pixel Skip to main content
Celtics guard Marcus Smart (left) had 12 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds in 26 minutes Friday.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart (left) had 12 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds in 26 minutes Friday.Duane Burleson/Associated press

DETROIT — Marcus Smart said it was painful to watch the Celtics play without him over the past month. He watched them stumble out of first place and watched their league-leading defense get thrashed, and all he and his wounded hand could do was wait.

On Friday, Smart would finally return after missing 11 games because of a laceration he sustained when he punched a picture frame in his Los Angeles hotel room Jan. 24. Smart was riddled with guilt afterward, and he knew that the only way he could truly lift his teammates was by rejoining them.

Smart said that before this game against the Pistons started, he was as nervous as he was before the first game of his NBA career. But that unease did not linger.


“It was like I never left,” Smart said.

He was sprawling across the floor to chase loose balls, to take charges, and to just do whatever else might have called for him to be skidding across the hardwood. He made enough shots to matter and found teammates when they were open. In the end, Smart finished with 12 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds, as the Celtics snapped a three-game losing streak by grabbing a commanding 110-98 win.

“It’s just his understanding of our defensive schemes and where to put guys in places and where to be himself,” Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving said of Smart. “It’s just easy to communicate with a guy like that that has a high basketball IQ out there.”

The Celtics received other significant contributions from their bench, led by center Daniel Theis, who had a career-high 19 points and seven rebounds. In all, Boston’s reserves outscored the starters, 65-45.

The backups have struggled to produce offense at times this year, leading to calls for Danny Ainge to supplement the unit with another scorer. Ainge was reluctant to part with a good asset to do that, though, partly because he did not want to lose a high draft pick for a rental, but also because he believed in the group he had assembled.


And perhaps this performance will be one Boston can build upon. The Celtics entered the All-Star break after their elite defense was mostly throttled. And with more than a week between games, it offered plenty of time for questions to sprout about whether this team had already reached its peak as it plowed on without Gordon Hayward. Usually, the next game that can shift a narrative is just one or two games away. But in this case it was much longer.

Nevertheless, Smart’s return and the comfortable road win appeared to reinvigorate Boston. And with a favorable matchup against a depleted Knicks team looming Saturday, the formula for a resurgence seems in place.

“Continue to build that identity we want to have going into the playoffs to really rely on expectations we have for one another when stuff gets tough,” Irving said, “because we’ve hit a few rough stretches. But now we’ve just got to find that consistency.”

Smart said that after he suffered the injury last month, doctors told him that the large shard of glass that lodged in his hand nearly hit a tendon, which could have required season-ending surgery. Instead, he got 20 stitches and could not wait to return.


“He’s been antsy to play,” coach Brad Stevens said.

Smart entered the game with five minutes left in the first quarter. His first four shots were 3-pointers, and he made two of them, and the Celtics were probably happy to see that.

The Celtics did little to slow the Pistons at the start, though, as Detroit led by as many as 7 points in the first half and still held a 39-37 lead midway through the second quarter. Then Boston managed to slow Detroit’s transition opportunities, instead forcing a collection of below-average shooters to consistently fire up below-average shots.

The Celtics, meanwhile, began to pour in 3-pointers. They hit 7 of 12 from beyond the arc in the second quarter alone.

Center Aron Baynes sprained his left elbow early in the first quarter, and Theis provided a key lift without him, including one powerful stretch in the final minute of the first half in which he threw down a putback dunk and drilled his second 3-pointer, helping Boston take a 61-49 lead to halftime.

“He’s been a big part of our team all year,” Stevens said of Theis, “a really reliable guy.”

Ish Smith, the plucky point guard who has given the Celtics fits at various times over the years, made his first eight shots of the game, including back-to-back baskets late in the third that pulled his team within 77-73. But Irving quickly answered with a baseline jumper and a 3, as the Celtics held an 86-77 lead after three quarters.


Smart attacked the rim for consecutive baskets during the Celtics’ 7-0 burst to start the fourth, and the Pistons were mostly silenced from there.

The Celtics made 17 of 39 3-pointers and had assists on 30 of their 41 baskets. For one night, at least, they once again resembled the ball-moving, ball-hawking group they previously appeared to be.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.