HOUSTON — Regardless of whether you’re a Celtics fan, we all shake our heads in disbelief at that line Marcus Smart straddles more than any player in the NBA when it comes to discerning between playing good defense or flopping.
Here’s the thing.
Forget about the actual call being made when he draws a charge/flop.
Smart wins the moment he makes those plays and both players and spectators look on, unsure of what just happened.
There’s no more symbolic image of this playing out, than Houston’s James Harden looking dazed and amazed after being called for back-to-back offensive fouls against Smart in the closing moments of Boston’s 99-98 epic comeback win after trailing by 26 in the second half.
At that moment, Smart made the game more about his mental strengths than his physical ones.
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“Just get up in him,” Smart said of his late-game strategy in defending Harden. “I know it sounds crazy to say with a guy of his caliber. But when he can get to dancing, feels comfortable, that’s with anybody, it’s tough to guard. When you get up in him you give him one way to go, one option to go... it’s hard.”
Those two game-changing plays by Smart were the fruits that come about when seeds of frustration are planted early.
Sometimes, Smart was aggressive on Harden, other times, not so much. When it mattered most, Harden gambled that using his physical strength against Smart was the way to go.
He was wrong in that moment; at least that’s what the game officials thought.
Let’s face it.
Smart will certainly make his share of bad decisions. None stick out more than him punching a picture frame that led to him missing 11 games (he had one piece of glass lodged in his hand, if it moved another inch or so, he could have been lost for the season) and needing 20 stitches to close the cut.
But it’s rare that he makes a bad decision in close games.
Now, could the execution of those decisions at times use some work?
But the actual late-game choices he makes, by and large, are the right ones, which is why Celtics coach Brad Stevens has him on the floor down the stretch most nights.
Indeed, it is Smart’s smarts - see what I did there - that set him apart from most of the NBA’s top defenders.
And the Houston Rockets, who host Boston on Saturday night, know this as well as any team on the Celtics’ schedule.