Marcus Smart, the “lion in the raft” chasing the Celtics’ NBA title

SAN FRANCISCO – What Marcus Smart aims to do in the Golden State Warriors is what opponents for years have been able to do with the Boston Celtics point guards.

“I might describe him as a lion out to hunt birds,” Smart said. “They are hunted. We are the Hunters now. So for me, I am just outside, I am stealthy, I am waiting for my time to strike and my chance.”

This is Smart’s eighth season in the NBA but initially as a Boston starting point guard and hunting the big cats. There’s a big reason why the Celtics made it to the NBA Finals, and the defense is so good because it has a great chance of winning the whole title.

Looking back on previous Celtics teams with Smart on the list, they didn’t have that chance. Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker — Boston’s primary point guards dating back to 2017, when the current Celtics first reached the Eastern Conference Finals — were so poor defensively but so talented with the ball in their hands that they had to be on the court. , which makes these teams vulnerable.

Opponents, including warriors, cannot take advantage of these Celtics. Smart, who stands at 6 feet 3, 220 pounds, is too large, fast, and bodied for anyone to fish. And he has the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award to back that up. Boston has two starting tire guards Robert Williams III and Al Horford, and Jason Tatum and Jalen Brown are strong defenders as well.

Smart versatility creates a scenario in which Celtics can switch in any position on the ground and protect the perimeter and driveway. There is no singles match that can be used. No wonder they were the best defense in the NBA during the regular season and remained No. 1 in the playoffs.

Marcus Smart has a knack for covering goalkeeper Seth Curry or the Big Men of the Warriors. (Kyle Terada/USA Today)

“There was always someone in court for us that we had to cover,” Smart said. “Someone was always picking the guy we’ve always had to help, and that would put a strain on our defense.”

Smart has never been great, and wasn’t quite as high on the attacking options ranking of previous Celtics teams. When Boston rocked the coaching staff and front office, transitioning Brad Stevens from coach to vice president of basketball operations and hiring Amy Odoka as coach, installing Smart as the starting point guard was another risk.

The early comeback was horrific. Boston was stuck on the fence for the first few months of the season, holding off outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture until mid-January.

“I know this might be hard to believe, but I was more confident these first two months just for a simple fact because I knew everything was new,” Smart said.

He has praised the Celtics for sticking to their formation with him as the starting point guard, and he has rewarded them.

Smart averaged 12.1 points during the regular season. His .418 shooting percentage was the second best of his career, and he set his career mark with 5.9 assists per game. In the post-season, when healthy enough to be on the field, he was outstanding in attack, scoring 15.7 points with 6.1 assists and shooting 0.345 from a 3-point range. This is an additional triple game from what he gave Boston during the regular season.

Smart scored 18 on a 7-of-11 shot, with a 4-of-7 shot in 3s, in Boston’s 120-108 win over Golden State in Game 1.

All this is noticeable because in previous qualifiers, especially in games of paramount importance, opponents forced Smart to shoot. He could not accomplish. There were 1 of the 10 he’s fired in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals against Cleveland, and 14 of the 43 he’s fired in in the last three games of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals against Miami. He came back from injury in the 2019 second round against Milwaukee and hit 1 of 11 in the last two games.

It was hunter When the ball is in his hands.

“I’m a smart basketball player. I’m a smart person. I know I’m going to find out and this team will figure it out,” Smart said.

Do not kill the Celtics in the attack. He turned their defense into a relentless weapon hammer. That’s what Smart did this season.

Golden State point guard – you may have heard of him – Steve Curry scored 34 points in Game 1, by six 3 seconds into the first quarter. He scored only 13 points over the last three frames and finished 12 of 25 shots. Smart was upset with his teammates early in the game due to confusion over the cover-up that opened up shots for Curry, but the defense was tight as the match went on. Smart disrupts the flow of Warriors with guard Draymond Green, who can start from his power forward or in center positions, depending on the lineup.

The Celtics have the luxury of playing Smart on Green because they don’t have to hide a weaker defender.

“The bottom line is we have put Marcus at the top of the big players all season to switch to their goalkeepers sometimes,” Odoka said. “This is something in our back pockets that we feel comfortable doing.”

It’s a trap set up by the Celtics, and it has resulted in some big kills for Smart, a lion who hunts warriors.

(Smart top photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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