The indelible Marcus Smart moments from the Celtics’ rousing comeback win over the Bucks Wednesday were very much in line with his typical indelible moments. They mostly involved Smart pestering and agitating the opponent while also being the electrical current for his teammates.
At various points, he swallowed Giannis Antetokounmpo’s shot at the rim, stepped in front of him and took a charge, and belly-flopped onto him after Antetokounmpo had given Smart just enough of a tug to be the one called for the foul.
Smart forced four turnovers, the Bucks missed all five 3-pointers they attempted when he was in their airspace, and he even collected a technical foul for barking at either an official or the Bucks bench while jogging upcourt with his team ahead by 11 points in the final minutes.
And still, despite those moments that Smart fans will cherish and chatter about, it is likely they all would have become a big footnote if not for Smart’s shooting. You read that sentence correctly.
“He never shies away from the moment,” Celtics point guard Kemba Walker said. “He made some huge shots. At one point when we were all struggling, he was the one keeping us in the game making all the right plays.
“He’s a tough guy, man. He works extremely hard, and he’s shooting the ball extremely well right now. We need him to continue that.”
Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward — the Celtics’ three most dangerous offensive players — combined to make just 7 of 26 shots in the first half. That was a big reason that Boston fell behind by as many as 19 points. But without Smart’s contributions, the damage would have been much worse, and probably impossible to overcome.
Smart hit a 3-pointer from the left arc over Antetokounmpo less than four minutes into the game, and it became clear that would be his hot spot for the night. That shot tied the score at 7, but the ones that followed were more essential, as other Celtics thudded one shot after another off the rim.
The Celtics were down by 17 with just over eight minutes left in the second quarter when Antetokounmpo was late on a closeout, allowing Smart to drill another three from the left arc. On the next play, he caught a pass in the same area, just a bit deeper, and Wes Matthews made a half-hearted attempt to dissuade him. Just like that, the deficit had been whittled to a much more manageable 11 points.
Smart made 3 of 6 first-half 3-point attempts, and that included a 50-foot heave at the halftime buzzer that was mostly just a percentage crusher. The other Celtics, meanwhile, combined to go 3 for 14 from beyond the arc.
“I practice my shot every day,” Smart said. “I’m always working. My confidence is to shoot and shoot, and that’s what I’ve been doing. My teammates give me confidence, Brad [Stevens] gives me confidence. And every day I work and put in the work, so it’s showing.”
But Smart was not done. With the Celtics still down by 14 early in the third quarter, he squared up against Antetokounmpo well beyond the right arc.
The Bucks’ 6-foot-11-inch forward put an arm up — and his arms are so long, that’s usually enough — but didn’t really inch toward Smart, seemingly believing that the distance and the shooter did not call for it. Smart drilled it anyway.
Then he added his most difficult made shot early in the fourth quarter, after the Celtics had pushed in front, as he curled past a pair of screens from teammates and drained an off-the-dribble and off-balance shot from the left arc.
Smart finished 5 for 11 from beyond the 3-point line, and all five came from 25 feet or beyond. He has taken more than 11 3-pointers in a game just twice in his six-year career, but it appears this could be more of a high-volume season for him.
Smart is averaging 7.5 attempts per game so far this year. He has never taken more than 4.6 per game in a single season.
“He stepped up and made some huge 3-pointers,” Walker said. “That’s what we need from him.
“We’re extremely confident in him. I’m extremely confident in him. I’m happy he’s my teammate and I want him to continue to shoot the basketball because he is really good and he works hard at it. And it’s paying off.
“He shot 5 for 11 from three. That’s amazing. That’s great. And I think he can continue to do that.”
Smart shot a career-best 36.4 percent from beyond the arc last season. He started this season 0 for 8, but has made 10 of 22 since then. Stevens insists that Smart gets a bad rap for his history of misfires, saying that those struggles were more related to various hand injuries than faulty form.
“I thought last year he shot it great,” Stevens said, “and you kind of see that continuing.”