BOSTON -- As Marcus Smart made his way to the scorer’s table with a little more than six minutes to play in the first quarter, you could feel the TD Garden crowd’s excitement picking up only to reach a full-blown crescendo when he entered the game at the 6:16 mark amid a standing ovation.
Smart, out for more than a month with a torn oblique injury suffered against the Orlando Magic on April 7, was back on the floor … sort of.
For most of the 14 minutes and 39 seconds he played, Smart looked very much like a player who had not been involved in competitive basketball for more than a month.
At least Smart had an excuse for his struggles which were just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Boston’s 113-101 Game 4 loss to Milwaukee that now has the Celtics on the brink of playoff elimination.
They now trail the Bucks 3-1 in the best-of-seven series with Game 5 in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
The thing about Smart is, even as he struggled with his shot more than usual (he was 1-for-7 with all his shot attempts from 3-point range) against the Bucks, there was never any doubts about his effort.
The only issue was whether his body would hold up well enough for him to be able to help in some capacity defensively.
Him returning to the floor after just four weeks was the earliest he was expected to be back to action. But for weeks, head coach Brad Stevens insisted that Smart's return would likely be closer to the six weeks.
Smart has shown amazing recuperative powers in the past, so it didn't come as a total shock that he was back to playing.
And early on, it was vintage Marcus Smart who can frustrate some with his shot-taking which can at times leave a lot to be desired.
But more often than not, he’ll make up for his misses with big plays defensively and at some point in the game, he’s more likely than not to drain a big-time, game-changing shot.
It’s not just a coincidence that Smart’s first game in this series just so happens to be the first game that both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton get into foul trouble.
Along with his defense, Smart’s role as a playmaker put some of his teammates in a better position to score or at least draw fouls.
But Smart’s play like that of most of his teammates, was not enough to withstand a Bucks team that after four games have simply been the deeper, better-playing, better-coached squad.
Smart is well aware that the odds are heavily stacked against the Celtics to win another game let alone rally back to win the series.
But if you know anything about Smart, you know he’s not the type to give up or give in to defeat easily.
“Unfortunately we’re (down) in a 3-1 series, we gotta get a win,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “Right now, we’re like a wolf with his back against the wall. We gotta fight; Game 5 has to be a dog fight.”
And it’ll be a dog fight that Smart will be in the middle of, confirming to NBC Sports Boston that he has every intention of suiting up for Game 5 on Wednesday.
“I feel good; body feels amazing,” Smart said. “But this is a tough loss. We have to put it in the back of our minds and be ready for the next one.”
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