Bucks need to be smarter about Smart . . . and other thoughts
It was not difficult Tuesday to identify the Celtics player on the bench who was making his return after missing six weeks with a thumb injury. Although, to be honest, Marcus Smart was not even on the bench.
With the starters playing the opening minutes of Boston’s 92-87 Game 5 win over the Bucks, Smart stood on the edge of the court looking as if he was about to be released from the penalty box. He barked instructions and waved his arms and swayed with every play.
“Oh, man, I was ecstatic,” Smart said. “I was trying to keep my adrenaline down. It was skyrocketing real fast, like I figured it would. My teammates did a good job of just keeping me calm.”
Smart’s presence was noticeable from the start. Less than a minute after checking in, he was diving on the floor for a loose ball, just like always. And the Celtics probably were relieved to see that his old, physical, relentless style had not been toned down. The Bucks, meanwhile, probably didn’t love it.
Smart finished with 9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 5 turnovers in 25 minutes. He energized the crowd and his teammates, and figures to have a sizable impact moving forward in these playoffs.
But Milwaukee should not let Smart carve into the lane. The Bucks would be wise to dare him to beat them from the perimeter.
During the regular season, Smart shot 36.7 percent from the field and 30 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Those numbers are hardly fear-inducing on their own, but now Smart is playing with a small splint taped onto his shooting hand’s surgically repaired thumb.
He looked understandably tentative to fire up jumpers Tuesday, but he did have success blitzing into the paint, past players like the rangy big man Thon Maker. Smart was 2 for 7 and his only two made shots were layups. He was 0 for 2 on 3-pointers.
It may just take him a game to get comfortable with the splint, but the Bucks should do all they can to find out. It will be worth keeping an eye on in Game 6.
Here is more analysis related to Game 5 and beyond:
■ With 1:16 left and the Celtics clinging to a 5-point lead, Al Horford missed a 3-pointer from the left arc. And that was actually the best result Boston could have hoped for.
Horford had hardly even started his shooting motion when the shot clock expired. There are plenty of times when shot-clock violations need closer inspection, but this one was pretty obvious. Nevertheless, it was not called.
But shot-clock violations can be reviewed only if the play results in a made shot. So if the ball had gone in, the points would have been taken away and the Bucks would have gotten the ball.
Instead, Semi Ojeleye tracked down the rebound and the Celtics were able to run off about 24 more precious seconds.
“I was asking for a shot-clock violation,” Bucks coach Joe Prunty said. “I didn’t think he got the ball off, so I said, ‘That’s a shot-clock violation.’ ”
It’s understandable why the league would be reluctant to reverse a non-call after play continued, but this still feels like a rule that should be fixed. A shot-clock violation is a shot-clock violation, no matter if the ball goes in or not.
■ The spat or beef or whatever you want to call it between Terry Rozier and Eric Bledsoe remains one of the oddest spats or beefs in recent memory. A quick refresher: Rozier accidentally called the Bucks point guard “Drew Bledsoe.” Bledsoe then said he didn’t even know who the (expletive) Rozier was. And just like that, it was off to the races. But in Game 5, their little whatever-it-is spilled onto the court for the first time.
With just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter, the two traded a series of hip checks and shoves as they dashed around the court. The last two shoves were the most severe, and they resulted in a flagrant foul being called on Bledsoe and a technical foul on Rozier. Rozier smiled when he was asked about it afterward.
“We were just out there having fun,” he said.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens sought out Rozier after the little spat and made it clear that getting ejected was not an option.
“I just walked up to Terry and told him, ‘You’re really important to us,’ ” Stevens said. “That’s all I told him. Other than that, I do want him to play with a chip and I do want him to play aggressive. I just want him on the court.”
Boston fans generally are aware of off-court story lines, and they’re generally quite clever, so I’m a bit disappointed they haven’t showered Bledsoe with some sort of Drew Bledsoe-related chant.
■ Tony Snell had yet another empty outing for the Bucks, and it’s reached the point where the Celtics should be glad whenever Prunty deems it necessary to put Snell on the court.
The guard, who lost his starting spot to Malcolm Brogdon in Game 3, played 13 minutes in Game 5 and went 0 for 5 from the field and did not score. He added one rebound and no assists. In 108 total minutes in this series, Snell is now 5 for 17 from the field with 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists.
I appreciate a good advance stat as much as anyone, but there are times when it is best to just crumple up the stat sheet and shoot it into the trash. (Or if you’re like me, miss the trash can, sigh, walk over and pick up the stat sheet and place it in the trash.)
Anyway, over the first five games of this series, Snell actually has a net rating of +2.1 — meaning the Bucks are outscoring the Celtics by an average of 2.1 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court — while superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo has a net rating of -1.0.
■ Still, stats sometimes can also be fun. Take this one, for example: The NBA’s tracking systems calculate a lot of unusual data, such as the average running speed of players while they are on the court. And according to those figures, the most consistently fast player Tuesday was former Celtics center Tyler Zeller, who galloped at an average speed of 4.74 m.p.h. Zeller played just 10:29, however.
■ Much of the Celtics offense ran through Horford, who had 79 touches and 53 passes in the game, second in both categories behind Rozier. Horford often worked in the post before looking to create elsewhere, and when asked about that approach, he had an interesting explanation for why it had succeeded.
“Jaylen [Brown] a couple times there just did a good job of relocating, reading me, and it was impressive,” he said. “We have to give him a lot of credit. If he didn’t show himself to me, those plays wouldn’t have happened. So Jaylen just thinking the game was great.”
■ The Celtics will be playing at TD Garden Saturday night no matter what. If they finish off the Bucks by winning Game 6 at Milwaukee Thursday, they will play host to the 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday at 8 p.m.
If the Bucks win Game 6, then Game 7 of the series will be played Saturday at 8 p.m. in Boston.
On Tuesday, the 76ers finished off the Heat in their opening-round series, so Philadelphia will have at least three days to rest and prepare for its next opponent.