20 Under 25 Rankings: #12 - Marcus Smart


20 Under 25 Rankings: #12 - Marcus Smart

TURNS 25: MARCH 6, 2019

Marcus Smart came into the NBA with a penchant for good defense, and seems to have only grown stronger in this particular phase of the game. While his shooting touch is very much a work in progress, the 6-foot-4 Smart has emerged as one of the Celtics' most important players.

He can play all three perimeter positions while still maintaining a solid defensive presence. But it's his decision-making as a point guard where Smart’s improved play really stands out.

Coming off the bench but playing starter-like minutes, Smart is providing everything Boston got from Evan Turner a year ago, and then some.

He doesn’t shoot a high percentage, but has shown himself to be pretty clutch in late-game situations whether it’s hitting a 3-pointer or finding a teammate for an easy score.

And as he continues to gain more experience, look for his confidence and overall production to continue growing.

Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Oklahoma City All-Star Paul George knows the Boston Celtics team he and his Thunder teammates will face tomorrow night, won’t be at full strength.

But he’s wise enough to know if you focus too much on an opponent’s key losses to their roster, that same team can potentially hand you a loss which is the last thing the Thunder need right now in what’s shaping up to be a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race.

MORE - I.T. isn't ruling out return to C's

Currently fourth in the standings, only four games separate teams No. 3-8. Only Houston (56-14) and Golden State (53-17) have secured a postseason berth. 

Which means the Celtics won’t catch Oklahoma City sleeping on them heading into tomorrow night’s game. 

“We are going to address it the same way regardless of who's in there,” George said. “We got to pick these games up. We lost the game on our floor earlier this season.”

But that was early in the season when the Thunder were still trying to figure out how its newly formed core of Russell Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony, could mesh.

Oklahoma City has gotten stronger as the season progressed, and are one of the hottest teams around with six straight wins, the most recent being a 132-125 victory at Eastern Conference-leading Toronto. 

Meanwhile, Boston (47-23) has lost its last two games and three of four so from a momentum standpoint, the Thunder have every reason to feel as though they’ll emerge victorious tomorrow night. 

And they also have added motivation from their Nov. 3 matchup with the Celtics in Oklahoma City that ended with a 101-94 win for Boston. 

Westbrook had 19 points and 11 assists in that game but shot 7-for-20 from the field. Carmelo Anthony had 14 points but did so on a woeful 3-for-17 shooting. And then there was George’s 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. 

“We have to show who we are,” George said.

Who they are, is a team that’s fighting for home court in at least the first round of the playoffs where they are currently fourth in the West. 

And their success in the last six games has been fueled by strong play at both ends of the floor. 


In that stretch, Oklahoma City is averaging 116.2 points which ranks second in the NBA during that span. Defensively, they are allowing 104.5 points which is the 10th-fewest allowed in the last six games.

“Just making the right plays, offensively and defensively” is how Westbrook described the team’s recent run of success. 

And the Thunder have every intention of keeping it going against a beat-up Celtics squad that they know they can’t take lightly. 

“Again, we are playing really well,” George said. “A step back if we lose no matter who's in or who's out would hurt us.”


Bruins loss, no call in overtime spoil Donato's stellar debut

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Bruins loss, no call in overtime spoil Donato's stellar debut

GOLD STAR: Ryan Donato was great for the Bruins in his NHL debut. No two ways about it. He showed good hockey IQ, a willingness to work for pucks around the net and an absolute bazooka of a shot from the face-off dots that the Bruins can always use more of in their lineup. Donato scored his first NHL goal in the second period on of those aforementioned scorched shots from the circle after a give-and-go with Torey Krug, assisted on a pair of other scores including a game-tying, backhanded saucer pass to David Krejci for a third period score and finished with a team-high six shots on net in 19:40 of ice time. It remains to be seen if Donato can play at close to this level once the adrenaline wears off a little bit, but it looks like the Bruins might just have themselves another impact player. At worst they’ve got another young left wing with a lot of possibilities.  

BLACK EYE: It wasn’t a very good night for the Bruins fourth line after Bruce Cassidy had to bust up the usual combination, and Sean Kuraly certainly had his share of struggles through the evening. Kuraly finished with a couple of shots on net, a couple of hits and a minus-2 rating to go along with a 4-for-10 in the face-off circle as he continues to struggle on the draw this season. It’s pretty much impossible to go on points as a judgment for how well, or badly, Kuraly is playing, so it comes down to physicality, keeping the puck out of his own net and doing the little things like face-offs. For the entire new-look fourth line, it was a tough outing against a hard-nosed, blue collar Columbus team that isn’t going to give up an inch. 

TURNING POINT: For the Bruins it came in overtime when Brad Marchand was freed up for a partial breakaway and swooped in with a clear shot at the net for the game-winner. Instead Pierre-Luc Dubois wrapped his arms around Marchand in a bear hug, and one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players wasn’t allowed to get a shot off in a clutch situation. Instead of being called a penalty shot or at least a minor penalty on Dubois, there was no call and a real stunning lack of consideration for one of the league’s best players. Do you think Sidney Crosby would have been handed a penalty shot in that situation? How about Alex Ovechkin? Yeah, Marchand’s numbers have been in that neighborhood for three years now, so maybe it’s about time he started getting some of those calls. That could have tipped the scales in favor of the Bruins, but instead the Blue Jackets weathered the storm and pulled it out in overtime. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Boone Jenner was pretty awesome for the Blue Jackets and deserves some credit for getting his game together after a slow start. Jenner finished with a goal and two points along with a plus-1 rating in 13:02 of ice time, and finished with four shots on net, a rugged five registered hits and a couple of blocked shots in addition to winning 6-of-10 face-offs. It was Jenner that jumped in front of the net and pushed home the first goal of the game for the Blue Jackets after Thomas Vanek turned a puck over from Brandon Carlo in the corner. That got the Columbus train rolling and it didn’t stop until they had the overtime game-winner against the Bruins. Jenner played a lead role in making all of that happen for his team. 

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 – the number of players that have scored their first NHL goal for the Bruins this season including Ryan Donato, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Sean Kuraly, Danton Heinen and Peter Cehlarik. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: "During warm-ups, actually, I was kind of taken away. It kind of felt like a dream. I really didn’t even get that warmed up because I was too focused on everything else & just the whole situation. It was an unbelievable experience and it was a blessing tonight." –Ryan Donato, talking about his first NHL game for the Bruins.