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.”
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.”
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.