Celtics

Celtics Spotlight: Marcus Smart's defense, leadership keys to stabilize young C's

Celtics Spotlight: Marcus Smart's defense, leadership keys to stabilize young C's

Marcus Smart confidently strutted into Celtics Media Day last month in a shamrock-clad white bathrobe, then routinely used his veteran status to muscle out rookies and shorten his wait to complete his day’s obligations.

Smart is still improbably just 25 years old. But he is undoubtedly a veteran on this fresh-faced Celtics squad. He marvels at how quickly the first six years of his NBA career have flown by and, yet, the 2014 draftee is easily the longest-tenured member of Brad Stevens’ roster.

The Celtics simply want Smart to be himself this season, that crazily-diving-on-the-floor, gleefully-guarding-7-foot-big-men cyclone of constant activity who leads not only with his voice but the all-out way he plays.

It’s a successful season for Smart if… 

… he earns another All-Defense nod, which would be no small feat considering the amount of back-line defensive talent the Celtics lost this summer. Smart is one of the game’s elite defenders — as evidenced by his All-Defense first-team nod last season — and he will be tasked with trying to smother talent of all sizes this season. With Smart, it’s never about the stat line, but if he can spearhead the second-unit offense when Kemba Walker is off the court, set the defensive tone, and provide leadership, then he’ll check all the boxes on his to-do list.

It’s a disappointing season for Smart if… 

… the injury bug tries to chomp on him again. After playing a career-high 80 games last season, Smart tore an oblique in a meaningless late-season tilt and missed the early portion of the playoffs while recovering. It was the second consecutive year that a late-season injury left Smart less than 100 percent in the postseason. Smart will be vital to Boston maintaining a defense that ranks in the top half of the league and they absolutely need him at full strength when the playoffs roll around.

2019-2020 Outlook

A year after earning the role of Kyrie Irving’s preferred backcourt sidekick, Smart could be headed back to the bench. But he’ll likely have an even greater opportunity to impact the team. If Smart can maintain his improved 3-point shooting (36.4 percent a year ago) and use his playmaking to power the second-unit offense, then he might even have an outside shot at Sixth Man of the Year consideration (though it tends to land with a high-scoring bench player). Smart’s leadership will be key in getting the most out of a young roster.

French import Poirier ready to get his hands dirty with C's>>>>

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Gordon Hayward's return will help Celtics the most in these four areas

Gordon Hayward's return will help Celtics the most in these four areas

BOSTON — With Gordon Hayward set to return possibly as early as Monday night’s game against Cleveland, he’ll be rejoining a squad that’s playing great basketball which has them among the NBA’s top teams.

But here’s the thing. 

Before suffering a fourth metacarpal fracture in his left hand which has been surgically repaired, Hayward and the Celtics were playing the best basketball of any team in the league. 

Can they get back to where they were with Hayward?

If they do, look for Boston to make notable strides in the following areas of play. 

OFFENSIVE OPTIONS

Now keep in mind, even when Hayward was healthy, the Celtics weren’t exactly killin’ the game with a ton of points or red-hot shooting. 

What they did more than anything else was create a pick-your-poison scenario on a game-to-game basis for defenses.

While there’s some element of that still around in his absence, there’s no debate that Hayward’s presence makes Boston a much more dangerous team to defend. 

And upon his return, the Celtics will be even more dangerous, thanks to the emergence of Jaylen Brown, who has been delivering All-Star quality production with Hayward out, along with the solid contributions Boston has been getting all season from Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. 

DEFENSIVE VERSATILITY

The NBA is all about creating mismatches on the floor, so teams with the ability to switch effectively on defense will find success. The return of Hayward gives Boston another body who has the size, strength and mobility to defend multiple positions. 

When he was healthy, the Celtics' defensive rating of 101.5 was the fifth-best mark in the NBA, which was surprising when you consider they lost defensive anchors Al Horford (Philadelphia) and Aron Baynes (Phoenix) in the offseason.

Boston’s defensive rating without Hayward dipped to 104.7, which still ranks seventh in the NBA. 

And while Hayward’s defensive ability has been questioned in the past, his defensive rating of 100.6 stacks up well relative to his teammates. 

WING DEPTH

If you want to win in the NBA, you better have wings — and that’s plural, not singular. And the Celtics have more than their share of talented ones, which is why the return of Hayward is so vital to the team’s overall success. 

Hayward has the ability to do many things on the floor, evident by his stats this season which touch on all the key categories. 

In addition to averaging 18.9 points per game, Hayward is also grabbing 7.1 rebounds to go with 4.1 assists per game.

Those are good numbers for sure. 

But what makes the Celtics so dangerous is they have not one but two others delivering similar production or better from the wing position, in Jayson Tatum (21.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Jaylen Brown (20.0 points, 6.9 assists).

STRONGER BENCH

The Celtics’ second unit has taken its share of hits this season because they don’t score as much as some — OK, most — other reserve groups. Of course that’s partly because Boston has one of the highest-scoring starting fives in the NBA, which means limited opportunities for the backups and thus, less points. 

Because of that, it puts a greater premium on their bench players to come in and impact the game at the defensive end of the floor. 

And the return of Gordon Hayward will provide that group some much-needed depth with what will likely be the return of defensive ace Marcus Smart back to that unit which has been solid this season. 

According to hoopsstats.com, Boston has allowed opposing second units to score 33.4 points per game which is the fourth-fewest allowed in the NBA this season.  

That number will likely take a drop with Smart directing that group more than he is currently. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics injury report: Robert Williams ruled out vs. Cavaliers

Celtics injury report: Robert Williams ruled out vs. Cavaliers

The Boston Celtics will be missing some size on their bench for Monday night's game vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Robert Williams has been ruled out with left hip soreness, the team announced Sunday. Rookie Romeo Langford was also ruled out as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered during a game with the Maine Red Claws.

On the bright side for Boston, Gordon Hayward could make his long-awaited return to the court after missing the last month with a fractured left hand.

Hayward originally was slated to return from his injury around Christmas.

The Celtics (16-5) and Cavaliers (5-17) will face off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Monday.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.