Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Marcus Smart spurs turning point vs. Bucks

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Stars, studs and duds: Marcus Smart spurs turning point vs. Bucks

MILWAUKEE – No matter how bad Marcus Smart may shoot the ball, good things tend to happen when he’s on the floor.

The Milwaukee Bucks learned this first-hand on Thursday night as the Celtics pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 96-89 win. 

Returning to action after missing the last two games nursing a left ankle sprain, Smart had eight points while missing eight of his 10 shots from the field. 

His defense will always be his biggest strength, but Smart’s playmaking skills were instrumental in the game’s momentum swinging Boston’s way near the end of the third quarter.

After a step-back jumper by Kyrie Irving cut Milwaukee’s lead to 63-59, it was Smart who found Al Horford in perfect position to drain a 3-pointer. Moments later, Horford hit another one to give Boston the lead.

Horford made big shots, obviously. 

But he was quick to praise the play of Smart for setting him up. 

“I really have to give all the credit to Marcus Smart on that,” Horford said. “He just sees the game in ways that a lot of times we don’t even see it. He recognized that my guy was kind of falling asleep on the weak side. He got me open there for back-to-back threes and I felt like that was a big turning point in the game.”

Said Smart: “Al’s a unique player that we have that can dominate from the inside and the outside. So as a guard, it’s our job to get him the ball.”

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And recognize how to deal with smack-talk. 

Both of Smart’s made baskets came about because of a Bucks rookie basically egged him on. 

“I don’t even know his name,” said Smart, who added that the rookie told him, “you’re trash.”

Smart had a message for the young fella. 

“I said, ‘listen, this is my first game back. I’m playing on two hurt ankles; still got more playing time than you,’’’ Smart recalled telling him. “And I hit my first three. He said, ‘Good, that’s one.’ Then I hit the second one and I pointed at him and said, ‘that’s two; two more than you got!’’’

Smart added, “It was fun. One day that’ll be him doing it.”

Here are the other Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 96-89 win over Milwaukee which extended Boston’s winning streak to three in a row. 

STARS

Al Horford: We have seen Horford deliver defensively and at times, provide a nice offensive punch. But on Thursday, he was absolutely outstanding at both ends of the floor and was far and away the best performer on the court. Horford finished with a near double-double of 27 points and eight rebounds in addition to dishing out four assists.

Kyrie Irving: Irving came to the rescue of Boston’s offense several times when it bogged down on Thursday, the kind of offensive juice the Celtics need from their best one-on-one scorer. He finished with 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting along with seven assists and just two turnovers. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Horford defended Antetokounmpo better than anyone has all season. But the Greek Freak still put up big numbers, a reminder as to why even in defeat he’s one of the best in the game now. He finished with a double-double of 28 points and 10 rebounds along with dishing out seven assists. 

STUDS

Aron Baynes: Whether he’s coming off the bench or starting, by the end of the night he will make his presence known. Baynes’ plus/minus for the game was a team-best +8. In addition, he scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but maybe his most memorable play of the night was drawing a blocking foul against Giannis Antetokounmpo that prevented the Greek Freak from a powerful dunk. He stayed on the floor for a few seconds longer than usual, only to bounce back up and get ready for the next play. 

Malcolm Brogdon: The league’s reigning Rookie of the Year was one of the few scoring options the Bucks could turn to in the second half who actually produced at a fairly consistent clip. He would finish with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists along with a blocked shot.

DUDS

Thon Maker: He didn’t play a ton of minutes, and the reason was obvious. He was easily the most ineffective starter for the Bucks, missing three of his four shot attempts. But more than his lack of scoring, the Bucks just weren’t very good when he was on the floor which was validated when you see that he had a plus/minus of -11 which was worse than any other Bucks player on Thursday. Brad Stevens changed up his starting lineup for matchup purposes. The Bucks might think about doing the same with Maker who does not match up well with the Celtics’ big men.

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Marcus Smart makes the Celtics great again

Marcus Smart makes the Celtics great again

Two games in and the return of Marcus Smart has had the effect many predicted it would for Boston.

There may be other Celtics who score more points, tally more assists and snare a few more rebounds.

But the impact of Smart’s play on what truly matters – winning – is undeniable.

His play was one of the keys to Boston’s 121-112 win at New York on Saturday night.

Smart came off the bench to score 11 points to go with five assists and three steals.

In his two games back, Smart is averaging 11.5 points, 5.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 64.3 percent from the field.

Yes, it’s a small sample size for sure.

More than anything, it serves as a reminder of how one of Smart’s greatest assets as a player is his ability to contribute in a multitude of ways.

“He just adds a lot of versatility to our offense and our defense,” Boston’s Kyrie Irving told NBC Sports Boston following Saturday’s game. “He has a high awareness on both ends. He’s able to create opportunities for all of us at both ends of the floor and we appreciate that.”

Certainly Smart is credited for being a good defender, and his play-making skills have improved dramatically in the last year or so.

But arguably Smart’s biggest contribution is that his play allows others around him, to focus on whatever it is that they do well, knowing that Smart has the ability to do both his job as well as provide help when needed.

Boston’s defense struggled mightily before the break with teams scoring seemingly whenever they wanted to.

But in the last two games, Boston has looked more like the defensive unit that has been among the NBA’s best most of this season.

In the last two games, Boston’s defensive rating has been 104.5 which ranks 11th in the NBA during that span.

Several factors have played a role in Boston’s improved defense the last two games; among them being the return of Smart who missed 11 games after punching a picture frame last month that left him with 20 stitches.

“It’s the appreciation of Marcus Smart right there,” Irving said. “Implement him and him just putting his stamp and identity on our team as well. It just makes a lot of other guy’s job, easier. Because he covers up a lot of our mistakes as well as playing with unbelievable awareness at both ends of the floor. He understands spacing, he understands how the little things matter.”

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Kyrie is not happy with Zaza Pachulia

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Kyrie is not happy with Zaza Pachulia

The Celtics defeated the Knicks in a game that had a little bit of everything Saturday night.

Kyrie Irving led the Celtics to victory and dominated in all of the important situations.

But he came out of the night a little pissed off.

During the Warriors-Thunders game tonight, Russell Westbrook drove to the paint and fell to the ground.

After Westbrook fell to the ground Zaza Pachulia appears to intentionally fall on to the back of his legs.

The play irritated Irving enough for him to air out his thoughts publicly on Instagram.