CLEVELAND – Kelly Olynyk has been Marcus Smart’s teammate for as long as the third-year guard has been in the NBA.
But the performance Smart put on in Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland ranks among his best ever.
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He scored a playoff career-high 27 points, which included a career-best seven made 3-pointers.
I asked Olynyk in all the practices and shoot-around sessions he has had with Smart, has the 6-foot-4 guard ever made that many 3’s?
“He’s going to say he has,” Olynyk told CSNNE.com, grinning. “But it’s very debatable.”
Coach Brad Stevens has seen Smart struggle with his shot for most of his NBA career.
But the bigger the moment, the better Smart’s shot seems to be.
And for the Celtics, Game 3 was as big as it gets because a loss would have put them in a 3-0 series hole, a deficit that no team in NBA history has overcome.
“We can talk about his shooting all year long, but you know when it’s in a big moment, that kid is going to rise to the occasion,” Stevens said. “He just always has. In this moment when we needed him most, he made huge shots. He was terrific tonight.”
Going into Game 3, there were few outside the Celtics locker room that gave them much of a chance to keep the game competitive let alone find a way to win.
Making the challenge all the more daunting was that Boston was without their top scorer Isaiah Thomas (right hip) who is expected to miss the remainder of the playoffs.
Replacing him in the starting lineup was Smart, who was supposed to deliver a better brand of team defense filling in for the 5-foot-9 Thomas.
But as the second half wore on, it didn’t take long for Smart to do what Thomas did most of this season – get buckets.
After falling behind 77-56 following a put-back basket by Tristan Thompson, Smart scored 11 points in the third as part of a 26-10 run by Boston that brought the Celtics within 87-82 going into the fourth.
“Marcus Smart started to hit a lot of 3’s,” said LeBron James. “They started to get momentum, and that’s what happens – you give a team life. They played so freely without I.T. (Isaiah Thomas), and they just made play after play after play, and we couldn’t weather the storm.”
One made basket after another, the Cavs’ control began to shrink up like a slug dipped in salt water.
And the confidence of Smart, as well as his teammates, continued to swell until the final breakthrough moment – an Avery Bradley 3-pointer that hit the inside of the rim four times before finally deciding to just drop dead through the center of the rim with just 0.1 seconds to play.
Bradley may have hit the game-winner, but it was Smart’s overall play more than anything else, it what positioned Boston to get the win which cuts Cleveland’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
“He (Smart) was aggressive from the beginning of the game,” said Bradley who finished with 20 points. “A lot of people counted us out with Isaiah not being here, and he is a big part of this team. But Smart took this opportunity to come out and be aggressive on both ends of the floor and make plays for our team. He was able to do that tonight.”
And in doing so, handed the Cavs their first loss of the playoffs in addition to being the biggest blown playoff lead by a team whose roster included James.