BOSTON -- It was a sight you seldom see when Marcus Smart has the ball behind the 3-point line - a defender closing out with the intent on contesting his shot.
That’s because for most of Smart’s career, the biggest knock on the Boston Celtics guard was his inability to knock down long-range shots.
But today, Smart is anything but a 3-point shooting liability which is something the Oklahoma City Thunder have a better idea of following Boston’s 134-129 win.
Smart finished the game with 18 points which included a strong performance from behind the 3-point arc where he was 4-for-9 shooting.
We have seen Smart in the past go on runs of hot shooting for a couple of games here and there.
But what we are witnessing now is Smart doing it more consistently which speaks to his improvement as being anything but a fluke.
This season he’s shooting a respectable 36.7 percent from 3-point range which is a career-best mark if he can maintain it for the rest of the season.
In January, Smart shot 33-for-77 (42.9 percent) from 3-point range.
And in two games this month, he’s 5-for-11 (45.4 percent) on 3’s.
That’s a significant jump from his 3-point shooting in October (17.6 percent), November (37.0 percent) and December (32.2 percent).
But it isn’t so much the fact that he’s making more 3’s at a higher rate, but more about the timing.
Trailing Oklahoma City 78-76 about midway through the third quarter, Boston went on an 18-4 run which included Smart knocking down a trio of 3-pointers that helped push Boston’s lead in the quarter to as many as 12 points.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has maintained that if Smart had not suffered multiple hand-related injuries last season, the shot-making we are seeing now might have materialized then.
And while more attention has been paid to what Smart has done to improve as a shooter, he says the key to what’s happening now with his shot is pretty simple.
“Shots just falling,” Smart said. “I haven’t changed nothing.”
Smart, as has been the case during his time in Boston, put in a considerable amount of work in the offseason to come into the season as a better 3-point shooter than we’ve seen in the past.
All that hard work appears to be paying off for Smart now.
“It’s a good feeling,” Smart said. “Not just for me but the team.”
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Smart’s ability to consistently make more three-pointers has been among the keys to Boston’s much-improved offense as the season has progressed. Teams can no longer double-team or tilt towards his teammates and be assured that Smart won’t raise up for a shot and make them pay.
Since he went into the starting lineup following Boston’s 10-10 start, the Celtics have the second-highest offensive rating (114.3) in that span. And their defensive rating (104.3) in that span is tied for the third-best in the league.
But with any improvement, opponents are sure to make some kind of adjustment.
Smart recognizes teams are getting wise to his long-range shooting and don’t give him nearly as much freedom to shoot as they’ve done in the past.
“Teams running out at me, out on me, making sure they find me and not letting me shoot as much,” Smart said, adding that teams used to just leave him be in the corner offensively with no fear that he could hurt them with his shooting.
And while Smart does like the fact that teams are showing more respect for his shot, he wouldn’t mind them reverting back to the Smart-can’t-make-a-shot approach to defending him, either.
“I love it when they leave me alone,” he said. “It’s my shot; I can shoot it.”
And make it, which is a sight we are seeing a lot more often than ever before.
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