There are few players in the NBA who take as much pride in strong play defensively as Marcus Smart.
Will he occasionally flop to try and get a call? Absolutely.
That doesn’t take away from his elite versatility that has seen him successfully defend a range of players from tiny, uber-quick guards to 7-footers.
But it is performances like the one we saw in Boston’s 111-89 Game 5 win over Toronto that serve as a reminder as to why Smart is the heart and soul of this Celtics team with his defense.
Kyle Lowry had been carving up the Celtics defense in Games 3 and 4, wisely navigating his way through screen after screen to get the shots he wanted and when they didn’t fall he was able to get to the free throw line.
In those two games, Lowry averaged 26.5 points — 10 points more than he averaged in Games 1 and 2.
After missing 11 of his 12 three-point attempts in Games 1 and 2, Lowry was a more respectable 6-for-18 on 3’s in Games 3 and 4.
But Game 5 was different.
While it’s true that Smart was not the only defender Boston employed on Lowry in Game 5, there was no one who spent more time defending Lowry than Smart.
It wasn’t even close.
The only other game in this series that Smart spent more time guarding Lowry than any of his teammates was Game 3 when he logged 3:58 defending Lowry — just 26 seconds longer than the primary defender on Lowry for most of this series, Jayson Tatum.
Smart’s defense typically makes it tough on players to knock down the shots they’re accustomed to making. But Smart took his defense on Lowry to another level in Game 5.
In the absolute most important game of the season for both teams, Toronto's most impactful player — Lowry — didn’t even get a shot off when guarded by Smart.
Not. One. Shot.
It wasn't the first time — or the second for that matter — that Smart's defense limited Lowry to no shot attempts.
Of the five games played thus far, Smart has defended Lowry at some point in all five games. And during those five games, Smart has kept Lowry without even a field goal attempt three times.
It’s no surprise that as the Celtics get deeper into this series with Toronto, they find themselves leaning more on Smart’s elite-level defense than ever when it comes to slowing down Lowry.
“We have a great deal of respect for Lowry,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Lowry’s going to draw attention from a lot of our guys. A lot of guys guard him at different times in a game. Marcus guarded him a little bit more.”
A little bit more?
Smart defended Lowry more than three times as long as the next Celtics defender, a clear indicator of just how much respect Boston has for Lowry and how confident they are that Smart can slow him down.
And to Smart’s credit, he displayed many of the ball-hawking skills that led to him being named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team a year ago and will most likely result in him being picked once again.
While the idea of having Smart become more of an exclusive defender on Lowry may seem like a new wrinkle, Boston's success defensively still comes down to how well they function defensively as a group.
“We have to be who we’ve been this whole restart, defensively,” Smart said last week.
Boston’s breakdowns defensively in Games 3 and 4 went far in allowing the Raptors to get back into the series and make it competitive.
“They did their jobs,” Smart said. “Now we have to go and do ours.”