Marcus Smart has heard the chatter. And the Boston Celtics guard has opted to let his game silence his doubters — although, he doesn’t mind pointing out his efforts for some added emphasis.
Serving as the primary defender on MVP candidate Damian Lillard on Tuesday night, Smart manned a pivotal role in Boston’s 116-115 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. Yes, Lillard still racked up 28 points. However, he shot only 9-of-23 from the field (39.1%), missed eight shots from beyond the arc and committed two turnovers.
Head coach Brad Stevens applauded Smart’s for his efforts on the defensive end, even going as far as to make the argument that his ability to contain Lillard off screens was the best he’d seen across the NBA this season.
“Tonight, I thought he guarded Lillard a well as anybody I’ve seen as far as handling those screens,” Stevens told reporters following the Celtics’ fourth consecutive win. “A couple of the shots Lillard made were not on him and weren’t certainly due to him. I thought he impacted [Lillard] as well as you possibly could.”
Is Smart back to his All-NBA defensive stalwart ways? Perhaps not quite yet. With that said, the 27-year-old believes he’s well on his way.
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Marcus Smart to Doubters: ‘Just Getting Started’
It may have taken Smart a minute to get his legs back up under him after a nearly six-week absence due to a left calf sprain, but the resurgent guard has finally begun to look more and more like himself of late.
“Just getting started,” Smart told reporters when asked if he’s out to remind the NBA of his defensive chops. “Just getting started to getting back to where I was and proving to people and letting people know not to forget who I am on that defensive end and what I do, being a two-time All-Defensive First Teamer.”
Chatter has consumed NBA circles recently questioning Smart’s on-ball defense and ability to keep pace with some of the quicker twitched guards in the league.
“I’ve heard it,” he noted. “I’ve heard the talks about the injury probably affecting me, I lost a step, all kinds of things. It is what it is. I know what I can do and my teammates know what I can do and the league knows what I can do, and that’s just extra motivation for me to go out there and prove it.”
This isn’t the first time Smart has responded to those questioning his defensive skillset. The Oklahoma State product clapped back at criticism from CLNS Media’s The Garden Report in a far more fiery fashion one week ago.
“I hear all the chitter-chatter about me not really being a great defender, and I can’t guard fast guards, shiftier guards,” Smart told John Wallach and Cedric Maxwell on 98.5 The Sports Hub after a 30 point Easter Sunday victory over the Charlotte Hornets. “A. Sherrod Blakely said so, and those guys at the Garden Report. All of them don’t think I’m a great defender, so I’ve just been coming out every game trying to prove and let them know that I’m still first-team two years in a row running so shut the f— up.”
Brad Stevens Praises Smart’s Defensive Efforts
Smart’s track record speaks for itself. When right, he’s one of the league’s top defenders. Problem was, for a short period of time, he wasn’t right.
“He just missed [six] weeks with an injury,” Stevens said of Smart. “It’s hard to come back and be yourself after that, especially when you’re on a minutes restriction and then you’re off, and you’re gonna have some ups and downs.”
Now, with Smart’s injury in the rearview mirror and his efforts on Tuesday night serving as a prime example, it’s becoming evident that Smart’s play on the defensive end looks to be on the up and up.