BOSTON -- Before Monday’s game between Chicago and Boston, Bulls head coach Jim Boylen likened a few Celtics to being players that bring a certain gridiron toughness to the game of basketball.
“To me, they (Celtics) got some football players in their group,” Boylen said.
A group that included Marcus Smart whose tough, gritty brand of basketball is starting to take shape more consistently after missing several games with an assortment of ailments.
Smart’s play was among the keys to Boston (27-11) surging ahead on Monday for a 113-101 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
Despite coming off the bench, Smart led all Celtics in minutes played (33 minutes, 24 seconds) before finishing with 12 points on 4-or-8 shooting, to go with eight assists, five rebounds, three steals, a blocked shot and a team-best plus/minus of +25.
“He’s been a great boost for us, and I think he’s starting to find himself after being out so long, in these last three, four games,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.
Smart, who missed eight games with an eye infection and another game with a cold - all within the last four or five weeks - has proven to be more than just a defensive pest for opponents.
Boylen noted how Smart’s toughness and versatility in a multitude of roles, is what makes him such a unique NBA talent.
“Smart has the ability to start, come off the bench, has the ability to play one (point guard) through four (power forward) basically, and help you win,” Boylen said.
And while Smart’s defense garners most of the headlines, Boylen says folks shouldn’t sleep on what he brings to the floor as a two-way player.
“Smart, as much as maybe people think he’s not an offensive player, I think he is,” Boylen said. “I think he is. He figures out where to make plays and when to post his mismatch and play the game.”
And as the Celtics continue their bounceback from three straight losses with a pair of wins, it’s not a coincidence that Smart’s defensive activity has picked up and with that, so has the rest of the team’s overall play.
Jayson Tatum isn’t surprised at the impact that a relatively healthy Smart has had on the Celtics, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
“I feel like … he’s the best defender in the league,” Tatum said. “We try to follow him and his energy that he brings on defense. It just goes through the team.”
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Pistons-Celtics, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.