Jay Larranaga

Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga lauds Marcus Smart's defensive fundamentals

Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga lauds Marcus Smart's defensive fundamentals

Marcus Smart cemented his status as one of the NBA's best defenders after a First Team All-Defense selection last season, but he's been exceptional on that end of the floor in each of his first five seasons with the Celtics. 

We notice his sharp instincts, tenacity on and off the ball and the grittiness he shows when he guards players much taller than he is. But what probably goes most unnoticed are his fundamentals, and Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga detailed how fundamentally sound Smart is on the defensive end of the floor in Adam Himmelsbach's latest story on the team's heartbeat. 

Marcus is a live example of the most fundamental defense you can teach. Every year you bring in new players and you’re trying to teach them NBA defense, you have an example of a defender that has been the most fundamentally sound defender I’ve ever been around. So you can say, ‘This is how guard a corner split: Watch Marcus. This is how you get into the ball and direct it with active hands: Watch Marcus.’ You always have a guy right there to tell other players, like, just watch what he’s doing and try to emulate it.

Since Smart entered the league, Brad Stevens has had a really hard time taking him out of games. He's been a starter or a key reserve in every season of his career and has been a staple in Boston's closing lineups as well.

Here's a look at how the Celtics have ranked in defensive rating since Smart's rookie year in 2014-15:

2014-15: 12th
2015-16: 4th
2016-17: 14th
2017-18: 2nd
2018-19: 6th

Without Al Horford, who was a part of the last three Celtics defenses and Aron Baynes, who was a part of the last two, Boston will have to overcome a glaring hole in the frontcourt on defense. While Smart has expressed his confidence in playing center in the past, Stevens will have to rely on ball pressure to ensure his team stays strong on defense.

And there's a good chance Smart is leading the charge in that department. 

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Marcus Smart gets up shots, details Mike Tyson-like pain

Marcus Smart gets up shots, details Mike Tyson-like pain

INDIANAPOLIS — Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, sidelined by a torn oblique, accompanied the team to Indiana and got up shots following the team’s morning shootaround.

Smart engaged in some light shooting under the watch of assistant coach Jay Larranaga. He didn’t spend much time on the court, putting up flat-flooted shots from around the blocks and the free-throw line.

“It feels good [to shoot]. It’ll be two weeks this Sunday. We’re coming up on the two-week mark, and once again, I said earlier in the week, I’m still very ecstatic with the progress that I made,” said Smart, who was expected to miss 4-6 weeks before being able to return to basketball activities. 

"I’m obviously nowhere near coming back but to be able to get back on the court, get some shots up, and be able to do a little more things actively is great progress for me.”

Smart cautioned against getting overly excited about the sight of him back on a court.

"It definitely still hurts. It does hurt,” said Smart. "It doesn’t hurt as much as the initial injury or as much as it did a couple days ago. But it’s definitely still some pain here, with some scar tissue and obviously the tear and everything. So we’re not trying to rush anything. We’re trying to keep a baseline with what I’m doing, and we’re pleased with the progress.”

Smart said he’s been able to walk fluidly more in recent days but doesn't plan to start jogging for the next couple weeks. He deemed himself “ahead of schedule” in terms of doing everyday tasks like walking and breathing normally, but admitted there’s still a lot of recovery ahead before even thinking about playoff basketball.

Asked to describe the pain from the initial injury, Smart offered a telling comparison.

"I’m sure nobody would know but you could probably imagine getting hit by Mike Tyson with a body blow,” said Smart. "That’s how painful it was. It took me down, instantly. When I got back up it knocked the wind out of me and I thought I was OK. I’ve been hit before. And then the second time it felt like someone shot me. There’s nothing I could do on that one. 

"I literally just collapsed and just told them to get me back to the back. There was so much pain going through my body that I didn’t know what was going on. It makes sense now with the MRIs and everything coming out to see that the oblique was torn. Now it makes sense why I was in so much pain. But it definitely felt like I was in the ring with Mike Tyson for about 10 seconds.”

Smart joined the team on the bench for Game 2 in Boston and was able to dispense advice to teammates, who said he offered defensive tips during most timeouts. Smart said that, not being able to help on the court, he felt he needed to be in Indiana to assist from the sideline.

"That was one thing Danny [Ainge] emphasized with me, being able to coach from the bench and really help these guys out, because, for some of these guys, it’s their first time taking on bigger roles,” said Smart. "They’re used to playing with or without people this year and unfortunately injuries happen. Stuff happens and they’ve been put in the fire. So being able to help those guys in certain things on this team is big for me, because they trust me to do that.”

Coach Smart has been diving into the film hoping to give his team hints about what might be coming.

"Just plays I know they’re going to run, plays I picked up on or were scouted,” said Smart. "The plays they like to run that we watch on video. And just trying to give those guys an extension of [coach] Brad [Stevens] on the floor. Only so much Brad can do — he has all these players to manage, and I’m watching those guys on the court. I can see a lot more things than Brad probably could because he’s watching something else. Just try to keep them in the right place and guide them off the court.”

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Long shot Martin does his best to impress Celtics in Summer League

AP Photo

Long shot Martin does his best to impress Celtics in Summer League

BOSTON – Hassan Martin knew from the outset he was on the outside looking in.

There's little room on the Celtics’ 15-man roster for undrafted free agents such as himself. And the Celtics Summer League team consisted of a handful of players (Jabari Bird, Semi Ojeleye, and Guerschon Yabusele) who were with the team last season and would surely be highlighted.

And while Martin, 22, hasn’t been around the Celtics culture for very long, he has quickly picked up the “always stay ready” mantra that we’ve seen under coach Brad Stevens (and Summer League head coach Jay Larranaga), which rewards players who make the most of their playing time.

Martin falls into that category and is one of the main reasons why the Celtics are on to the second round of the playoff portion of Summer League play in Las Vegas after knocking off the New York Knicks, 82-75 on Thursday in Las Vegas.

Boston will face the Miami Heat on Saturday in the quarterfinals.

The 6-foot-7 Martin came off the bench against the Knicks and scored eight points on 3-for-7 shooting from the field in 18 minutes.

It was another strong outing for Martin, who is second on the team in rebounding (5.3) while shooting a team-best 60 percent from the field despite playing limited minutes (he is seventh on the team in minutes played).

“I don’t have a huge role on this team,” Marin told NBC Sports Boston earlier this week. “I just wanted to come in and show my athleticism, my motor, the way I attack the rim, rebound, and the way I defend. All the little details, hopefully, will get me a spot on the team. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Martin knows all too well that while his focus is on doing whatever he can to help Boston, there are other teams watching as well.

"Of course I want to stay with Boston," Martin said. "Going to school basically right up the street, it would be great. But I understand this is a business. Like everybody else here, I just want my shot, my opportunity to play in the NBA; that's all."

The former University of Rhode Island star led the Rams to an NCAA Tournament bid in 2017 – snapping an 18-year drought - and was named Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year in his junior and senior seasons.

After going undrafted in 2017, he took his talents to Japan where he became a major contributor to the Ryukyu Golden Kings, where he averaged 15.3 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting 62.3 percent from the field.

The adjustment to life overseas was a little rocky at first, but it didn’t take too long for Martin to settle into a groove by doing what the Celtics are seeing in summer league – impacting the game.

And by doing that, Martin is doing exactly what an undrafted free agent in the summer is supposed to do – give the Celtics front office and others throughout the league, something to think about.

Martin said there have not been any talks specifically about what his role might be with the Celtics beyond this season.

“I approach that the same way I approach the game now; stay ready,” Martin said. “Because you never know when your opportunity is coming. All I can do is stay ready, just like I’ve done so far in summer league; just staying ready.”