WASHINGTON — Led by All-Star Jayson Tatum’s whopping 51 points and a relentless approach, the Boston Celtics routed the Washington Wizards 116-87, Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena. Celtics veteran Marcus Smart couldn’t board their plane back to Boston without addressing the naysayers who doubt Smart’s potential to excel as the team’s starting point guard.
They’re the same critics who are most likely still unimpressed with the notion that Boston (24-24) still has a chance to turn its season around, despite their dominating performance. For those with eyes on the Eastern Conference standings, Sunday’s win over the Wizards broke a three-way tie with Washington and the New York Knicks.
The Celtics (24-24) have shot up to the eighth spot, which is only four games behind the Philadelphia 76ers, who are sixth.
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Marcus Smart Returns Vs. Wizards
Smart didn’t hold back. He praised Tatum for his best performance of the regular season — where Jayson scored 18-of-28 attempts from the floor, including a career-high nine 3-pointers to go with his ten rebounds and seven assists on his way to his fourth 50+ point career performance.
Smart (COVID protocols), who played in his first game since January 10, spoke to Tatum before the game in an attempt to calm the two-time All-Star’s nerves and settle in. Tatum missed 20 consecutive 3-pointers heading into Sunday’s tilt against the Wizards. However, he got it going early and often, including his first three finding the bottom of the net in the game’s opening minutes.
Finishing with a game’s best plus-36 rating to go with his busy stat line, Marcus finished with 11 points, six assists, four rebounds, and four steals against the Wizards.
Ime Udoka ‘Challenges’ Marcus Smart
However, Marcus understands as the team’s starting point guard, his duties extend far beyond scoring and rebounding.
Smart prides himself on seeing Tatum at his absolute best in Sunday’s winning effort.
“I’ve been trying this whole season to do it,” Smart said about making his teammates better. “Shots haven’t (fallen) for certain guys. Things happen, but as a point guard, when everybody else is going scatter, you have to kind of be the one to calm everybody back down, and I’ve been challenged. From Ime and everybody else, that I’m not the right person in this position to do it. Even though every time I go out there, I do it, and it shows. So, we just can’t worry about it.
“Just go play basketball like we know how to do and let things work themselves out.”
Ime’s challenged you?
“Everybody, I challenge myself, Ime; I mean I hear all the talks from everybody,” Smart added. “It is what it is; it’s a part of the game. You use that as the motivation you need to keep going. I know it’s one game, but it’s one game and one step in the right direction. Now, we just have to build on it.”
Smart: ‘It’s Us Versus Everybody’
The Celtics converted 40 made field goals off of 26 assists while shooting 44.4% from the floor. Still, the chip on Smart’s proverbial shoulder is larger than it’s ever been, and he’s decided to incorporate a particular mantra for him and his teammates to follow.
“It’s us versus everybody, you know? Nobody really believes in us but us on this team, and that’s how I feel,” Smart said after Sunday’s win. “We hear the noise. We see it. It is what it is, but it’s us versus everybody. That’s the mindset that we have. That’s the mindset we got to keep, and we got to let that fuel us. Whatever that takes, whatever that means, we got to use it to our advantage. There’s always going to be noise. You’re always going to get knocked, but the old saying is: it’s not what you do when you get knocked down; it’s what you do after you get knocked down.
“For us, we’ve been knocked down a few times this season. But, we keep getting up and fighting, and that’s what we’re going to have to continue to do.”