No matter what kind of statistics Marcus Smart has produced throughout any given game, he’s always prepared to step up and deliver in the clutch. Despite a slow start Tuesday night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the reliable Celtics guard came through just like he has done on so many occasions, as he put forth one of the most heroic clutch performances of his career.
Boston entered the fourth quarter trailing the Toronto Raptors, 78-70, and was in desperate need of a spark. Typically, a spark doesn’t come from a guy who had shot 1-for-7 from the field during the first three frames, but of course, Smart is not your typical player.
After mentally shutting out the first three quarters, Smart opened up the final frame firing away from beyond the 3-point arc. He canned shot after shot with confidence, amassing five 3-point makes during a three-minute span.
Smart hit his fifth 3-pointer of the quarter at the 7:55 mark, tying the game at 85-all. His sudden barrage had completely knocked the wind out of Toronto, and the Celtics rode his momentum-swinging run to a 102-99 victory and a 2-0 series lead.
“We needed it. Bad,” teammate Kemba Walker said of Smart’s surge. “He was struggling before that, and then out of nowhere – that’s just a will to win, man. That’s just a will to win. He has that. And he brings that to our team.”
How Smart brings that winning element varies from game to game. One night, it could be a momentum-altering steal that leads to a fast-break bucket. Another night, it could be him locking down the opposing team’s best offensive player for a game-saving stop. It’s impossible to predict how he’ll help to win a game, but his teammates and coaches know that it’s bound to happen one way or another.
“Marcus has always affected winning in a big way,” said C’s coach Brad Stevens. “He always does what he needs to win. Tonight, we needed a little jolt offensively – we missed some open shots against that zone at the end of the third and the early fourth. But then he made a bunch in a row and it loosens up the D and now we can drive the ball. I still think we missed some plays and missed some reads late. But Marcus has been a winning player since he’s gotten here. I’ve said many times, we’ve been in the playoffs every year since he’s been here and it’s not a coincidence.”
What drives Smart’s will to win is a blend of confidence and tenacity. Those two elements were what helped to bail him out of a slow start Tuesday night, as he maintained the belief that he could snap out of his shooting funk and deliver down the stretch.
“The first half, the shots I was taking were rimming in and out,” Smart recalled. They were great shots and I just kept telling myself all I need is one to go in and you’ll be right back there. And once I saw the first one go in (in the fourth quarter), I knew that the next time I’m catching, I’m shooting if I’m open.”
What also helped Smart to deliver at that moment was the faith his teammates had in him. They, too, ignored his slow start, and tried to get him open knowing his history of coming through in the clutch.
“We really trust one another,” said Smart, who finished with 19 points. “[My teammates] just keep telling me, ‘Hey, we just need you to be you and make some big plays,’ and that’s what I did.”
Jayson Tatum was one of those encouraging voices who kept trying to get Smart open down the stretch. The All-Star wing has witnessed Smart’s clutch factor countless times by now, and is still in awe by what he can do.”
“I ain’t never played with anybody like Smart, I ain’t never met anybody like Smart,” said Tatum, who tallied career playoff-highs of 34 points and six assists. “He is one of a kind. Anybody that watches him play, knows him or ever plays with him knows that there’s nobody like Smart. Any time I’m going to war, I’d take him on my team every day of the week.”
What Smart does on a game-to-game basis cannot be replicated and the variety of ways in which he helps the Celtics win games cannot be matched.
“There’s only one Marcus Smart, I’m gonna tell you that much now,” Walker confirmed. “There’s only one. A different beast. That dude is unbelievable. I say it all the time, man, he’s a monster. We love playing with that dude. His intensity is unmatched. He’s just really fun to be on the court with. I love the intensity he brings to the game. He just raises our level.”
Tuesday night, Smart raised the level one more notch, while bringing the Celtics just two wins away from a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals.