Those no-look dishes are no passing fancy with Celtics' Marcus Smart

Those no-look dishes are no passing fancy with Celtics' Marcus Smart

BOSTON — Javonte Green paused to pry Kemba Walker off the parquet as their Celtics teammates broke out in transition, then Green raced ahead. From his perch trailing the play, Walker had one of the best views in the house for what happened next.

Marcus Smart scanned the defense, turned his back to his defender above the 3-point arc, and waited for Green to spring into the lane. Smart then whizzed a behind-the-head, no-look dart to Green for a highlight-reel and-1 finish.

Walker, no stranger to a sexy assist, stomped over to Smart with a wide smile on his face and slapped him on the head, all while Green playfully shaped his hands like googles to emphasize Smart’s uncanny court vision.

"Man, [Smart is] a hooper, man. He's just a baller,” gushed Walker. "He loves the game so much and you can tell out there. When he's throwing those passes, I get excited, man. I love seeing unbelievable stuff like that, so it's fun to watch.”

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Any list of what Smart does best would start with defense and hustle plays, then maybe continue on to his penchant for 3-point shots. Still, this season especially, Smart has begun putting on passing clinics, routinely producing highlight feeds of various varieties.

Smart has thrown multiple full-court bounce passes for transition hoops (including one memorable outlet to Jayson Tatum in Los Angeles). Against the Lakers on Monday night, Smart somehow threaded a behind-the-back bounce pass to Enes Kanter, all while sandwiched in the paint by Dwight Howard and LeBron James, for a layup. Then on Wednesday night, Smart got fancy with two no-look feeds late in the first half, including the gem to Green.

“That’s what I do,” said Smart. “I’m a playmaker, a facilitator, and these guys know as long as you cut and you cut with your eyes on the ball, I’ll get it there.

"If you're cutting and not looking, the ball might hit you in the face, so everybody that’s cutting now has their hands ready. These guys see me make passes like that all the time in practice and things like that. That’s just something I do.”

Smart has always been a better playmaker than most might know, if only because of everything else he brings to the table. His 4.7 assists per game this season are flirting with a career-best but he’s doing that while averaging a career-low 1.3 turnovers per game. In fact, even as Smart ups the degree of difficulty on some of his feeds, his turnover percentage has plummeted from 16.5 last year to a career-best 10.1 this season.

Smart’s playmaking is vital for Boston, whether it’s as a primary ball-handler with the second unit or filling in on the starting five. Smart finished with a team-high six assists Wednesday as the Celtics raced away for a 119-95 triumph over the visiting Grizzlies.

That first no-look feed of the night, which zipped over Tyus Jones’ head, was something straight out of a Larry Bird late-80s highlight reel. A little more than a minute later, Smart helped Boston morph a Memphis turnover into a Jayson Tatum two-handed slam after Smart's fancy no-look feed while navigating the baseline as Boston attacked with numbers.

“[Smart] definitely knows where the guys are, no question,” said Walker. "He’s been in this offense for a long time as well. Smart is a special guy, for sure.”

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Sometimes it feels as if Smart has eyes in the back of his head the way he anticipates where players are going to be. Call it Marcus Pocus, he’s often been passing wizard this season.

Walker was asked what it’s like to be on the receiving end of one of those no-look feeds and sounded a bit wistful while noting that he hadn’t been so lucky yet.  He quickly added, “I’m not sure [teammates] know it’s coming. They catch it though, so [Smart is] doing the right things.”

With the Grizzlies in town, a lot of the pregame hype centered on Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant and his offensive wizardry. Brad Stevens had dubbed Morant’s passing “special,” but it was Smart who stole the show, all while Morant finished with 2 points on 1-of-5 shooting with five assists.

The Celtics as a team generated 32 assists on 45 made baskets and Celtics coach Brad Stevens was encouraged by his team’s renewed focus on ball movement in recent games.

“You can feel, the last two games, the way the ball is whipping around,” said Stevens. "That’s who we have to be.”

Smart doesn’t just help those assist numbers, he adds a little flair to the process.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Friday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Hindsight 2020: Would more Jayson Tatum have pushed Celtics to NBA Finals in 2018?

Hindsight 2020: Would more Jayson Tatum have pushed Celtics to NBA Finals in 2018?

Jayson Tatum was in his basketball bag, giving LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers all they could handle. 

He was scoring in an efficient manner (24 points on 9-for-17 shooting), rebounding the ball (seven rebounds) and making big shots.

And he was doing this on one of the biggest stages of them all: Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.

A 3-pointer by Tatum put the Celtics ahead 72-71 with six minutes to play, a shot that capped off a Tatum surge in which he had scored seven of Boston’s last nine points. 

And then … nothing. 

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He took only one shot after that and missed it, going scoreless for the rest of the game.

The Celtics that year were a team that leaned on whoever had the hot hand. 

But on this particular night, they needed help figuring out who that was in the closing minutes — and in hindsight, head coach Brad Stevens should have stepped in and done more to implore his team to get the ball to Tatum in a better position to score. 

However Stevens stuck to what had worked so well for so long with this group: letting this young band of ballers figure out on their own who to lean on when it mattered most, as contributions seemed to come from a new player on a nightly basis.

But on this stage with all that was at stake, they absolutely needed Stevens to implore them to go to Tatum … a lot. 

And now, two years later, the domino effect of that game’s outcome is still felt. 

Brad Stevens has been at the helm for seven years here in Boston and ranks among the franchise’s winningest coaches ever. 

But in that Game 7 in 2018, the Celtics were less than six minutes away from getting to the NBA Finals, which is as close as this franchise has come to winning a title during Stevens' reign. 

When you look at the overall body of work since Stevens arrived in Boston in 2013, there are very few instances in which a decision or non-decision on his part stands out in a bad way. 

But this was one of those times. 

Yes, the Celtics were playing without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, who were both sidelined with injuries. 

And yes, there are undeniable benefits in having so many young players step their game up despite being without a pair of All-Stars in Irving and Hayward. 

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But as we’ve seen here in Boston and throughout the NBA, getting to the NBA Finals is not guaranteed for any team regardless of how much promise they show going forward.

And to be as close as they were at that time, there’s no way to completely move on from that sting of missing out — other than to take that next step and actually reach the Finals. 

You can go through all the missed shots and free throws and blown assignments defensively and find factors that led to Boston coming up short in that game.

But none looms larger than the Celtics' inability to put Tatum in a better position to score the ball in the final minutes. 

While the pain from that loss has in many ways helped Boston’s young core grow, the gains for the Celtics and the Tatum-Brown tandem would have been even greater had that group as they were constructed advanced to the Finals. 

When it comes to players making plays when it counts, of course it’s ultimately on them to deliver. 

But efforts must be made to best position players to come through in the clutch, the one thing in hindsight the Celtics could have done a better job in what was — and still is — the toughest loss for this franchise in the Stevens era.

2020 NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Teams still on schedule for June

2020 NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Teams still on schedule for June

The NBA season may be at a standstill, but that won’t slow NBA teams down from preparing for the upcoming draft that’s currently slated for June 25. 

While this draft is short on star power like this year’s NBA rookie class, which includes Zion Williamson of New Orleans, Ja Morant in Memphis and New York’s R.J. Barrett, all of whom turned in strong first seasons in the NBA, there’s still plenty of talent to pick over in the coming weeks. 

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And the Celtics will get their shot — make that shots, plural — with three first-round picks this year. 

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ possible draft plans as well as those of the rest of the NBA in the latest NBC Sports Boston NBA Mock Draft. 

Click here for the gallery.