BOSTON — Boston Celtics rookie Robert Williams knew everyone in the gymnasium was in trouble the moment Marcus Smart emerged from the locker room.
Smart, Williams, and R.J. Hunter huddled Saturday with a group of area kids as part of the team's “Fit To Win” initiative. The event’s focal point: a game of dodgeball that Smart had not-so secretly been lusting over as if it were a playoff game.
“S---, he went to change his shoes and he came out in his practice jersey so we knew he was going to be serious as hell,” said Williams, shaking his head at Smart’s intensity over a schoolyard game. “It’s the same energy with him every time, it don’t matter what he’s doing.”
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This was quite literally Billy Madison stepping onto the playground for first-grade recess, snaring a dodgeball whizzed at his head, and announcing that everyone was in big, BIG trouble.
For the next 15 minutes, Smart played dodgeball like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals, much of his intensity focused on eliminating his Celtics teammates. But no 8-year-olds were spared, either. Celtics players were instructed that they could only throw at the children with their off hand, but that didn’t stop Smart from piling up eliminations as his team won the event.
This is Smart in a nutshell. Relentlessly competitive regardless of the situation. The Celtics were coming off a two-game road trip and an emotional win in Indiana the night before. How many NBA starters would want to spend a rare off day at a community event? You don’t get many pristine weather days in early April in Boston, but Smart was downright excited to be indoors with the kids.
As Celtics fans hold their breath over the oblique bruise that left him crumpled in a pained heap on the Garden floor on Sunday night and seemingly threatens his availability for the start of the playoffs next weekend, take solace knowing that Smart’s competitive drive is going to have him fighting to get back on the floor.
On Sunday morning, before the injury setback, Smart sat down with NBC Sports Boston to recount his dodgeball domination and ponder Boston’s impending playoff foray. A sampling of the Q&A at the team’s Auerbach Center.
How much fun did you have out there playing dodgeball on Saturday?
Smart: It was amazing, man. I’m a big kid. I think anybody would love to play dodgeball, man. It’s a fun way to stay active, it’s a fun way to relieve stress — have a little fun with it. I don’t care how old you are, you’re never get too old for dodgeball.
Right after the event, you were on social media breaking down the game film.
Smart: We went right to it. All in all it was a fun day for me, R.J., and Rob. We had a lot of fun with the kids. For the kids to go insane the way that they did, it means a lot to us. It was special.
First- I got fouled. Blatant. Flagrant. In the back. Cheap. Yellow circle obvious. Second-Young fella circled in blue gotta stick his nose in the battle. Third- the girls circled in green were pretty good. But I won. Close only counts in handgrenades and horseshoes. pic.twitter.com/DR9KXzgTwG— marcus smart (@smart_MS3) April 7, 2019
OK, but did you legitimately total how many 8-year-olds you eliminated?
Smart: No, I didn’t total it but I know it was more than 5. I know it was more than 5, for sure. R.J., I think had three. Rob, I think two. They made us play with our left hands so it was weird. Me, Rob, and R.J., the adults had to play with our left hands, our off-hands. So it was interesting.
Did your team win?
Smart: Oh yeah, my team won. My team won. We had the least amount of hits [taken]. I’m the defending champ. You know I take this seriously.
Does this little dodgeball game sorta show your competitive nature?
Smart: Yeah, whatever I do, I want to be the best at it. So I’m trying. I’m going to try everything and I’m never going to quit. So, if I lose once, you gotta play me again. If I lose twice, you gotta play me again until I win one. That’s just how it is. That’s how I was raised. To be able to go out there and do something unique, not everybody gets that opportunity, to have that competitive nature, it’s something special.
Did you get eliminated at all in the dodgeball game?
Smart: I actually did. One kid got me out. He snuck up on me. I was trying to get Rob and R.J. because they were double-teaming me, and the next thing I knew, some kid came in behind me and he catches me. That was the first time I’ve ever got out in dodgeball, so I was a little bit upset about that. [Editor’s note: We’re fairly certain Smart meant this was the first time in his life he had been eliminated in dodgeball.]
Did you give that kid a little respect for eliminating you?
Smart: Oh, for sure. It was a good one.
Let’s talk about the team’s recent surge. Two weeks ago you guys held a team meeting after the Spurs loss, but you were alarmingly calm after it and felt like the team was heading in the right direction. Why did you feel that way?
Smart: Because of the guys that I go to bat with every night, man. I know what everybody’s potential is, I know what everybody really wants. The common denominator is [the team’s championship] goal. So I wasn’t really worried because I’ve seen what this team can do. Obviously, we haven’t done that and lived up to the expectations but, when we do, when we get it clicking, all it takes is one for us. So we’re just looking for that one time to get us going.
You’ve had some quality wins lately. How close do you think you are to clicking?
Smart: We’re getting there. We’re not there yet but we’re pretty close. We had that game against Indiana [on Friday] where we thought we played a full game for the first time this season. Really, it was a full game for everybody and full effort. It was fun to play, everybody had fun, everybody was focused. Everybody was in a different mindset and getting ready for the playoffs. You can kinda see it, you can feel it in the locker room. Everybody is locked in.
Safe to say you’re pretty confident about this team’s potential in the playoffs?
Smart: Very confident. And I’m very proud of these guys. We’ve been through a lot of adversity and we’ve stuck with it and we’ve kept battling. We’re finally getting a couple of games under our belt that we like and we’re feeling good about ourselves. Going into the playoffs, everybody knows, getting that rhythm going — once you get a rhythm, you’re hard to stop.
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