How Marcus Smart ended up at center, and 10 other thoughts on the Celtics
As Celtics coach Brad Stevens recounted Marcus Smart’s impact in the 130-125 overtime win over the Wizards on Wednesday night in Washington, D.C., he smiled and pointed out that the 6-foot-4-inch guard had actually been deployed as a center for stretches near the game’s end.
“So, Smart now has officially done it all,” Stevens said, “because he’s played every position for us, but he’s never played the five.”
This opportunity was partly because of the fact that the Wizards had installed a small lineup featuring 6-8 forward Markieff Morris in the middle. Also, for the Celtics, Al Horford was sidelined, Daniel Theis had fouled out, and Aron Baynes was dealing with a sore ankle.
Nevertheless, the move was unusual enough for Stevens to bring it up. Smart, who said he played some center in high school, said he wasn’t even sure how often he was manning the middle in Wednesday’s game.
“I have no clue at all,” he said. “I played a little bit of everybody. Whatever my team needed me to do, I was just trying to provide that. They needed me to play some five tonight, and I wasn’t surprised that they chose me to do that.”
Smart said his goal when he was at center was to “not get buried in the post.” The obvious assumption is that he would be at a disadvantage in this situation. But he prefers to view it the other way.
“I’m a guard playing the five position on both ends, offense and defense,” he said. “I could use my quickness and that to my advantage. So I look at it as an advantage to me.”
The game will be remembered for Kyrie Irving’s two big 3-pointers in the final minute of overtime, but Smart provided two similarly important plays at the start of the session, as he swooped in and outmuscled the Wizards for a pair of offensive rebounds that led directly to five Boston points.
“I’m so grateful he’s on our team,” Irving said.
■ This has been an impressive run for the Celtics, but they have benefited from quite a soft slate. Their opponents so far this season have a combined winning percentage of .482, 24th worst in the NBA. And the Celtics’ schedule strength is as close to being 29th as it is 23rd. The Bucks, meanwhile, have played the fifth most challenging schedule (.518) while the Raptors have played the 14th toughest (.503).
■ With 13 seconds left in regulation and the Celtics leading by 3 points, Boston elected to foul Bradley Beal to turn the final seconds into a free throw contest. Stevens reasoned that since the Celtics had two timeouts, and Washington had none, it was a clear advantage for Boston in this situation. But Beal, for one, was surprised by the tactic, so he inquired about it.
“I was thinking, ‘Why did they foul?’ ” Beal said later. “I asked Marcus [Smart], ‘Why’d you foul me?’ ”
Beal made the first free throw, and he said he’d noticed earlier in the game that Boston’s guards weren’t crashing in for rebounds from the top of the key, so he chased his miss and scored, helping send the game to overtime.
The Celtics ended up winning, so the moment turned into a footnote. It was probably the right move by the Celtics and it simply turned unlucky, but Stevens will probably be fine-tuning that situation soon.
“We’re still in control of the game,” he said, “if we block out the shooter.”
■ After that unfortunate sequence, the Celtics had to regroup. Marcus Morris was asked after the game what the players said on the bench as they prepared for overtime. “We said we should get that rebound,” he said. Fair enough.
■ It is quite common to see throngs of Celtics fans invade visiting arenas. People usually say that they “travel well,” but that suggests that they’re mostly flying in from Boston. The truth is that the historic franchise has a loyal and widespread base. Anyway, Wednesday’s game at Capital One Arena had a particularly green hue, with several raucous, “Let’s go, Celtics!” chants erupting, as well as some “MVP” calls for Irving. A Washington-based reporter asked Marcus Morris about the road support, and he smiled.
“This must be your first time,” he said. “That’s like that in every arena. It’s not the first time.”
■ The Celtics are averaging 124.9 points per game during this seven-game winning streak.
■ The Celtics are still 4½ games behind the Raptors, who grabbed one of the most impressive wins of this season on Wednesday when they stomped the Warriors in Oakland, 113-93, despite the absence of Kawhi Leonard. But Boston has essentially caught the rest of the pack. Even though the Celtics are still in fifth place and trailing the Bucks, 76ers, and Pacers, they are just one full game out of second place.
■ Speaking of the standings, Boston fans may want to avert their eyes when glancing at the Western Conference. The Kings, whose first-round pick will go to the Celtics unless it is the first overall choice or if the 76ers’ choice is better, have climbed into eighth place in the West. They are ahead of the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Timberwolves, Jazz, and Rockets. Sacramento could easily still finish behind all of these teams, but the season is now one-third complete, so this is no fluke.
■ Amid all the play calls, strategies, attacks, and counterattacks, sometimes it’s just good to have a guy like Irving to calmly swish a 31-footer when you need it.
■ Wizards coach Scott Brooks had some high praise for Marcus Morris before the game.
“He seems like he’s been like their solid, MVP-type of player this season for them,” said Brooks, who coaches Morris’s twin brother, Markieff. “Just gives them a spark, gives them a toughness, gives them an edge.”
Morris then took the court and scored 27 points, marking the first time in his eight-year career that he has scored at least 25 points in consecutive games.
Morris is averaging 14.9 points and 6.3 rebounds this season while making 49.5 percent of his shots and 42.3 percent of his 3-pointers, all career highs.
■ We interrupt this story to bring you Brad Stevens channeling Bill Belichick: “Not everybody had their best night, but everybody did their jobs.”