Marcus Smart is having a phenomenal Eastern Conference Finals and it is all based on just his smart hustle. His stat lines rarely stands out but he does all of the little things, all of the dirty work that generally goes unnoticed. In game two against the Cleveland Cavaliers Smart’s hustle has been clearly evident and has the Celtics two games away from the finals.
Smart comes off the bench for the Celtics and brings an energy that is just hard to match. His stat line from game two is fairly pedestrian, he shot 3-9 from the field, 1-3 from three, but he really stood out with 9 assists, 4 steals, and a team-leading +21 plus/minus. The plus 21 is the stat that really makes the difference when he is out there he just makes things happen on the court for the Celtics defensively. In the playoffs when he is on the court the Celtics have a defensive rating of 98.9 and 108.4 when he is off, that is 9.5 difference.
Marcus Smart is as versatile defender; Brad Stevens is able to put him on anyone. In this series, he can chase Korver and contest threes or switch onto big men like Kevin Love. He really is the Swiss army life on the defensive end for the Celtics.
Smart’s head is always on a swivel when LeBron James thinks he has an open passing lane to Kyle Korver up the court, Smart sees the lane batted the pass down and dove into the Cavs bench to save the ball. Later in the game, when James thinks he has a rebound secured and is dribbling up the court when Smart sneaks up from behind poked the ball free and dove out of bounds to save the ball. Those are just winning plays.
Smart’s hustle and heads-up play at the end of the second quarter was a huge swing for the Celtics, he found Marcus Morris after it looked like he was about to turn the ball over and as the Cavs were bringing the ball up to hold for the last shot, he intercepted a LeBron pass and half court and found Morris for another layup. This four-point swing cut the lead from 11 to 7 points going into the half.
Smart crashed the offensive glass on one play midway in the fourth that really highlights his smart hustle. On an Al Horford missed three, Smart worked around Tristan Thompson to tip the ball out to Jayson Tatum. When Tatum goes in for a layup and misses, Smart enters the breach once more untouched for the putback.
Maybe the most important thing Smart did was stand up for his teammate, Horford. When Smith shoved Horford in midair, Smart was the first Celtic to come rushing in to confront him, besides sending a message to Smith, it sends a message that all of his teammates already know by now, but he has their back.
Smart’s teammate love when he enters the game, here is what Terry Rozier said about Smart last night “I enjoy playing with him. Every time he subs in and I’m other, it’s just like, ‘Phew!’ It’s a relief.” (Credit to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe for the quote)
These Smart Hustle plays do not always show up in the box score, but they show up in the win column and have the Celtics on the verge of making an improbable run to the NBA Finals.
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- All Stats from NBA.com/Stats
- Photo Credit to Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
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