By the time Marcus Smart caught the pass above the 3-point arc, he could see Jaylen Brown racing free to the basket on the opposite side. Smart quickly lofted the ball towards the basket knowing that Brown would likely finish anything near the rim.
The alley-oop lob came up a bit short but Brown caught it and calmly laid it off the glass as Boston’s lead ballooned early in the third quarter of a breezy 141-103 triumph over the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night.
Five of Smart’s nine assists in the game went to Brown. Which is particularly notable because the Smart/Brown tandem now leads the NBA in both assists-to-field goals (38) and assists-to-points (90).
As Brown emerges as one of the NBA’s best scorers this season -- he’s now seventh in the league at 27.3 points per game -- it’s notable that Smart has assisted on 45 percent of Brown’s assisted field goals this season. The next most common assister for Brown this season is rookie Payton Pritchard at 10 field goals.
The five assists leading to 11 points helped the Smart/Brown tandem sneak ahead of Chris Paul/Deandre Ayton (33) and kept them ahead of the Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray (32) and Ben Simmons/Tobias Harris (33) combos.
What’s more, Smart-to-Brown has now generated more points than Simmons/Harris (81), Jokic/Murray (79), and Paul/Ayton (74).
So how exactly have Smart and Brown forged such chemistry?
"Just constantly talking. Me and Jaylen have had lots of talks about this year and coming up years and how we’re going to play," Smart said Sunday during his walk-off interview with NBC Sports Boston after the Celtics snapped a three-game losing streak.
"Especially when I get the ball or he gets the ball, just get out and run. We’re both great passers. We both have good IQ on the basketball court and we know where each other is going to be. I’ve been playing with him for [five] years, and that chemistry is just there."
Maybe it’s not surprising that Brown is also the top assister (11) for Smart this season and accounts for 36.7 percent of all Smart’s field goals made by assist.
With Kemba Walker missing time early in the year and Jayson Tatum sidelined recently by COVID, the Smart/Brown tandem has had to keep the offense afloat for Boston. And the two have developed an obvious chemistry. Smart’s underrated passing has helped thrust Brown’s scoring into the spotlight.
Smart has had a front-row seat to watch Brown blossom into an All-Star-caliber offensive player this year.
"He’s ready. He’s focused. He knows what it takes to be great," said Smart. "He knows what he has to do. And he’s on a mission. He’s got a great supporting cast behind him with us to back him up. The way that he plays, the way that he comes into every moment is like his life defended on it. And that’s how you gotta play."
Later Smart added, "Just really the way that he’s scoring, his patience and poise when he has the ball. His rookie year, Year 2, that Jaylen Brown would just put his head down and go and not understand where he was going. But he worked hard, you’ve gotta give him credit. And it shows. That’s why he’s one of the best young players in this game and doing what he’s doing -- and doing what he’s doing for this team. So I’m just very, very proud of the way that he approaches every game and, like I said, you can see it and it’s working out for him."