BOSTON -- Marcus Smart was nowhere to be found on the floor Wednesday night for the Celtics, but make no mistake about it...
...Smart’s presence, even when he’s not in the building, is still felt by his teammates and opponents, to a lesser extent.
No Smart (illness) meant the rest of the Celtics had to collectively step up their game defensively.
Did. They. Ever.
The Celtics delivered one of their better defensive performances this season as they pulled away for a 112-93 win over the Miami Heat.
It’s not that huge a surprise until you realize that the Celtics defense delivered on a night without Smart, a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago which validates his reputation as one of the league’s top defenders.
The Celtics (15-5) began their surge defensively in the second quarter. Facing an eight-point deficit (28-20) after the first quarter, they took control over the next three quarters as they outscored the Heat, 92-65.
They were getting deflections, hustling down loose balls, diving on the floor…basically making a bunch of Marcus Smart-like plays.
Following the win, Celtics players were quick to acknowledge not having Smart forced them all to pay closer attention to their individual and team assignments defensively, well aware anything less would surely spoil their perfect home record (8-0) this season.
“No question, no question you can’t replace Smart,” said Semi Ojeleye. “The intensity that he brings on every possession and the energy and just the plays he makes. He sees what is coming before everybody else does. So we knew we had to bring extra talk in his absence.”
Among the most vocal players was Ojeleye, who played every minute of the second and third quarters in a stretch where the Celtics outscored the Heat, 62-41.
Placing an even higher emphasis on doing a better job at the “little things” defensively, takes on greater importance on nights such as Wednesday when the team’s defensive leader - Smart - is unable to play.
“Smart is one of the best defensive players we have in this league,” said Kemba Walker. “He’s our defensive anchor. And when you don’t have him, you have to try your best to make up as much as possible. He is a huge part of what we do, so yeah, you have to be that much more locked in and that much more on point to try and make up for the things that he does for us.”
That involves making smarter plays defensively; the kind that their defensive anchor Smart makes night-in and night-out.
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