BOSTON – During one sequence in the fourth quarter, Marcus Smart went head-first, WWF-style for an almost-loose ball that was in the hands of Nik Stauskas briefly.
It didn’t take long before the ball wound up in Smart’s hands.
“Once I saw that, I started taking off running,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder who was on the receiving end of a Smart pass out of that play, for a lay-up. “He made a hell of a pass to me. Even more of a hell of a play to dive on Stauskas and take the ball from him.”
That was just one of the many hustle plays made by Smart, a prominent figure in Boston’s 116-108 win.
In addition to scoring 21 points, Smart also had a career-high eight steals.
The play on Stauskas speaks to kind of effort plays that Smart brings to the table, and has made him a player that is on the radar of most teams even before he became a Celtic.
“When the draft was going on we played a lot of attention to Marcus Smart,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown. “There’s a toughness about him that you can’t help but respect.”
And while that toughness has been on display most of his time in Boston, what we’re starting to see more from him is a refined game offensively with better shot selection particularly from 3-point range.
“The last couple of weeks has been some of his best basketball,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And we needed it. We’re down a couple of bodies, and he is playing at a high level on both ends of the floor.”
Smart believes he has taken that next step with his game as a whole.
“I’ve been really trying to elevate my game, especially going into the second half trying to keep the momentum alive,” he said.
And its plays like the Stauskas play which looked more like a football strip-sack, that reminds us all how impactful he can be.
“I saw the ball, and went after the ball,” Smart said about the play. “He just happened to be in the way of it.”
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from tonight’s game.
Isaiah Thomas: You know you are ballin’ when you can drop 33 points, and it not be that big a deal. Not just that, but Thomas has now scored at least 20 points in 40 consecutive games which ties the franchise record set by John Havlicek.
Marcus Smart: This was one of Smart’s better all-around games this season, delivering in just about every statistical category. He finished with 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go with five rebounds, five assists and a career-high eight steals and a blocked shot. And like most of his teammates, unfortunately he also had a high number of turnovers (six) as well.
Dario Saric: The Sixers have high hopes for Saric’s future in the NBA, and for good reason. The dude can play really well around the basket as well as in the role of a stretch big. He had a double-double off the Sixers bench with a team-high 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Robert Covington: He was playing well most of the game for the Sixers, finishing with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting with nine rebounds and three steals. However, his night was cut short due to a head contusion.
Jae Crowder: He did a great job of setting the tone for the Celtics, scoring 11 of his 18 points in the first quarter to go with five rebounds, two assists and a steal.
T.J. McConnell: Very efficient playmaker, he continues to give the Sixers solid production from the point guard position. He had 12 points and eight assists in addition to five steals.
Nerlens Noel: The Everett-native did a lot of good things statistically, and had a presence around the basket as a rim-protector. He finished with 16 points and six rebounds along with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Kelly Olynyk: Boston has been getting great, steady production of late from Olynyk who turned in another strong performance. He led all Celtics reserves with 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting in addition to grabbing a team-high seven rebounds.
Celtics turnovers: While this is certainly one of the Sixers’ strengths defensively, the Celtics have to do a better job of taking care of the ball, regardless of how good an opponent may be in this particular area of play. Boston committed a season-high 24 turnovers which led to 34 points for the Sixers.