Celtics

Marcus Smart: 'Game 5 has to be a dog fight'

Marcus Smart: 'Game 5 has to be a dog fight'

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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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Who visits the hardware store?

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Who visits the hardware store?

For Day 3 of our Countdown to Camp series, we asked our panel to take a trip to the hardware store and predict which Celtics player might bring home some of the NBA’s hardware by winning a postseason award.

Outside of maybe only Most Valuable Player, there’s an argument to be made that a Celtics player, coach, or executive could muscle their way into the conversation for the league’s other top honors. Alas, you’d have to rewind to the 2007-2008 season to find the last time the Celtics found themselves in that spotlight when Kevin Garnett won Defensive Player of the Year and Danny Ainge was Executive of the Year.

Celtics players haven’t muscled their way into the voting much in recent seasons. Last year, only Marcus Smart charted on an award while finishing eighth in Defensive Player of the Year. Jayson Tatum was third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2017-18, while Al Horford was fifth in Defensive Player of the Year balloting that season. Isaiah Thomas was fifth in both MVP and Most Improved voting for the 2016-17 campaign.

But if the Celtics are to outkick most prognosticator’s expectations this season, they’ll need someone on their roster to at least vault into the conversation for these awards.

So who is most likely to earn themselves a shiny trophy?

Our vote went to Marcus Smart for Sixth Man of the Year. With the glut of wing depth this season, we believe there’s a strong chance that Smart will initially shuffle back to his familiar bench role, allowing coach Brad Stevens to trot out a versatile starting lineup featuring Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and a big (with Enes Kanter the early favorite to hold that starter job initially).

Stevens has long preferred to deploy Smart in a reserve role, allowing Smart to set the tone for the second unit while also providing another ball-handler for the second group. The Celtics went away from that last season when Smart elevated from a bench role in November and started 60 games overall. Kyrie Irving routinely advocated for Smart, noting how much he enjoyed playing alongside him at the start of games, which only solidified Smart’s spot with the first unit.

A similar script could certainly unfold this season. But it would be the most Marcus Smart thing if he’s the player that embraces shuffling to the second unit and allows Hayward, Tatum, and Brown to play with the first group.

Yes, the Sixth Man award tends to honor a high-scoring player on one of the league’s top teams. But if the Celtics overachieve this season, there will be extra attention on the player(s) that spearheaded the second unit. Smart, with his All-Defense pedigree and improving offensive efficiency, could dive into the conversation for Sixth Man the same way he pounces on a loose ball.

Abby Chin: Gordon Hayward, Sixth Man of the Year

I believe Hayward will be almost — if not fully — back to his Utah self this season. But, with the glut of talent on the wing, and Hayward's ability to facilitate the offense on that second unit, it might make the most sense for him to come off the bench again. I think Hayward will finish games on the court, he just may not start there.

 

Sherrod Blakely: Brad Stevens, Coach of the Year

The Celtics will finish with a record that exceeds the expectations of many, and will include wins over East favorites Philly and Milwaukee.

 

Max Lederman: Gordon Hayward, Most Improved

Hayward has been in the lab all summer working on getting back to the player he was before the injury. He had a few flashes last season, but was a shell of his former self. I know this award tends to go to a young breakout player but I think a really strong start to the season could make some folks consider taking a different approach with their votes.

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Isaiah Thomas out 6 to 8 weeks after latest injury for ex-Celtics star

Isaiah Thomas out 6 to 8 weeks after latest injury for ex-Celtics star

Isaiah Thomas just can't seem to stay healthy since leaving the Boston Celtics two years ago.

Thomas underwent left thumb surgery Wednesday and is expected to miss six to eight weeks as he recovers, the Washington Wizards announced.

Thomas suffered the injury -- a rupture of the radial collateral ligament in his thumb -- during "routine workouts" Monday, according to the team.

It's another tough break for the 30-year-old point guard, who's appeared in a total of 76 games over the last three seasons due to a nagging hip injury that required surgery last March.

Thomas' hip injury, which he sustained during his career season for the Celtics in 2016-17, essentially derailed his career to date, as he's bounced between the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets since then.

Thomas finally appeared healthy after signing with the Wizards in July, but it appears his Washington debut will have to wait. The Celtics' first matchup with the Wizards isn't until Nov. 13 -- exactly eight weeks from Wednesday -- so there's a chance Thomas can return for a Boston reunion.

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