When it comes to the “flu game,” for most fans, only one name comes to mind: the legendary Michael Jordan. Of course, there have probably been countless others. And now, the Boston Celtics have their flu game to look back on after their October 25 win over the Charlotte Hornets — and with it, many will cherish Marcus Smart‘s performance a little bit more because of it.
Well, most fans will, but not all fans.
No player in the NBA splits a fanbase more than Smart; you either adore him or detest him. There’s no middle ground. The section of disgruntled fans has grown louder over the last two games due to a perceived lack of desire from the defensive-minded point guard.
Smart is no stranger to controversy or criticism, even calling out a CLNS Media post-game show for saying he’s not “really a great defender” in April 2021 during an interview with John Wallach and Cedric Maxwell on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
However, when watching the wins against both the Houston Rockets on October 24 and Charlotte Hornets the following day, there was no denying that Smart seemed to be off the pace. Usually, you can count on a Marcus Smart defensive performance, one where he’s “mad dogging” on the perimeter and battling on the low block, proving why he’s one of the NBA’s best defensive guards. Yet, we saw Smart prefer to switch out onto bigger, slower opponents, where he could rely on his physicality rather than speed and intensity.
Perhaps part of Smart being switched onto opposing bigs is partly due to Ime Udoka’s “switch-everything” system and the reliance on guards in veer-back roles.
Systematic or not, fans were beginning to question Smart’s viability as a starting point guard, especially with Dennis Schröder performing so well out of the gate. And then, it happened. Marcus Smart did what he does best on the final possession of regulation – stopped an offensive possession, pilfered the rock, and started a fast break opportunity.
Marcus Smart Had Been Playing With Flu-Like Symptoms
After his game-saving heroics led to an overtime victory, Smart spoke to the media and explained why his game has been at a slower pace in recent days.
“I’ve been dealing with migraines, body aches, and just being weak. I didn’t know if I was going to play tonight, just glad I was able to get out there and help my team,” Smart said during the October 25 media conference when asked by the media if he was feeling OK.
The veteran point-guard then went on to discuss his mentality on choosing to play and getting through such a high-paced contest: “Just pure will and determination, when I was younger I was always told, if you’re going to play you can’t make excuses, you gotta go out there and do it. So, I chose to play instead of sitting out. It wasn’t pretty, but not every game is going to be pretty; you gotta go find a way.”
In terms of production, this was far from a poor game for Smart. Smart ended the game with seven points, four rebounds, five assists, and three steals, per NBA Stats. Of course, most of what makes Smart such a great point guard is his hustle plays, and with a team-leading six deflections, along with 15 shot contests and three loose-ball recoveries.
For a game where Smart was under the weather, he put in one hell of a performance.
Smart Continues to Be Underrated
In a world of instant gratification, Smart continues to be an underrated commodity among sections of the Celtics fan base, and the league as a whole. A quick look at his shooting numbers will give you a reason to pause and ask where his impact is coming from, but when you peel a layer off, Smart’s impact begins to shine through.
According to Cleaning The Glass, Smart is on course for his fifth season among the top 10% of guards in steals, with an average of two per 100 possessions. Looking into his non-box score impact, NBA Stats shows that Smart is also elite at regaining control of loose balls, with a recovery rate of 69.8% on defense.
Of course, these numbers mean very little if the team is losing, but it’s Smart’s willingness to put his body on the line that has endeared him to large portions of the Celtics fanbase. Sure, there are times where he makes mistakes, like punching a picture frame and missing a few games, to getting into the occasional spat with other teams or officials.
Hopefully, Smart has recovered from his sickness and will be operating at 100% as the Celtics look to defeat the Washington Wizards on Wednesday evening and take their season to 3-2 under new head coach Ime Udoka.