Celtics’ Marcus Smart Offers Surprising Take on Recent Run: ‘I’m Still Me’

Marcus Smart, Celtics

Getty Marcus Smart, Celtics

Marcus Smart swears nothing has changed. He insists he’s approaching his job the same way in these last nine games as he did in his first eight.

Even though the numbers would suggest otherwise, he sat in the Celtics’ dressing room late Friday night, tugged at his custom-made robe and said, “I’m still me.”

No one else is up to that task.

But in his last nine games, Smart has been an even better version of the Tasmanian Devil’s favorite NBA point guard. He averaged 5.4 assists in the season’s first eight, though he shot just 36.4 percent overall and 24.4 percent on 3-pointers. That run culminated with a November 4 home win over Chicago that brought the Celts to a very nice 5-3.

Beginning the next evening on the road against the Knicks, though, Smart got on a nine-game rocket that has seen him average 8.7 assists while shooting 45.7 percent from the floor and 38.5 percent on treys (of which he’s taking 4.3 per game, 1.2 fewer than in the first eight). The C’s have won eight of those nine and took down two others while Smart dealt with an ankle injury, moving to a league-best 15-4.

Marcus Smart Downplays Improvement

To explain the change, Smart passes the credit. (See what we did there?) He says there was no conversation with the coaches or vision in the sky on that late night flight to New York that caused him to record 34 assists in the three games that followed.

“No, just we started making shots,” Smart told Heavy Sports. “Even tonight, it was one of those games I probably could have had 12 assists again (he had five in a 122-104 win over Sacramento). You know, we missed some open shots that we usually hit, and there’s nights like that. But that can’t distract me from doing it.

“At the beginning of the year, I was still doing it, just, like I said, we weren’t hitting shots, so it looked bad. It looked like, ‘Oh, what is he doing?’ I still wasn’t turning the ball over, and I was still getting assists, but when we started making shots those assists went up. Then it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s playing the greatest basketball of his career.’ No, I’ve just been playing basketball.”

And Smart’s assist totals may not even be a true measure of his passing prowess. The way he triggers a Celtic offense that is featuring far more ball movement can lead to the feed that finds the stat sheet. He gets the unrecorded so-called hockey assist.

Also, from the eye test, he’s passing up more shots.

But, Smart says, “I’ve always made the extra pass. I’ve always turned down a good shot for a great shot. There’s moments just like anybody else, you’re feeling good and you take the shot. But you always try to get the best shots possible. I see the floor differently than other people, and I’ve been doing it. Now it’s just we’re making those shots and it’s just getting talked about a little bit more.”

And there’s the fact the Celtics are making more shots in part because EVERYBODY appears to be making the extra pass.

“Definitely,” says Smart, “everybody is. And that’s what it’s going to take. We understand the talent we have, and we understand that as long as we just move the ball, we’ll get whatever shot we want. Because of the talent we have, the floor starts to open up for everybody else, and everybody gets to eat. You know, it’s part of it. It’s something we’ve been building since I’ve been here nine years ago. You know, JT (Jayson Tatum) and JB (Jaylen Brown) and Al (Horford), this is something we’ve been working to get to all those years, and it’s finally starting to come together and we’re starting to gel.”

Smart on Mazzulla: ‘He’s a Great Coach’

Then there is the Joe Mazzulla factor. The interim coach who seems a lock to get the “I” word eliminated from his title, has stepped in well to a difficult situation after the Ime Udoka suspension. And, at 34, he’s not too far removed from his own backcourt days.

“Whether Joe was a point guard or not, he’s a great coach,” Smart says. “I don’t think it’s the point guard aspect; I think it’s just being a great coach and allowing me to be me — you know, understanding that everything I do is to win games. I’m not a selfish person. So I’m always going to make the right play nine times out of 10. Just allowing me to do that, trusting me, don’t freak out because I make a bad play or I turn the ball over or I take a shot and miss.

“I think once Coach put his trust in me, we’ve seen how it’s allowed me to blossom and this team to blossom. So just having a coach that can believe in you and allow you to run the team like he needs you to, that means everything. And then on top of that him being a point guard, that’s just an extra bonus, because he understands the pressure that I have to go through as the point guard in making everybody else happy and sacrificing your own for the team. A lot of people don’t understand that when you’re playing that point guard role, it’s not about you. You’ve got to sacrifice a lot, and you don’t always get the credit — but then you get a lot of the discredit when things go wrong. And you’ve got to understand, it’s just like a quarterback in football.

“We’re sacrificing to get Jaylen, Jayson, Al, D-White the ball, and everybody’s cheering …”

Standing a few feet away, Derrick White hears this, smiles and says, “Yeahhhh.”

To which Smart replies through a laugh, “Shut up.”

Marcus then speaks more about riding the wave, pausing to add, “But when things go wrong, they look at you, like, ‘Oh, he’s not a point guard. We need a point guard. We need somebody to get us this and that.’ Well, you wasn’t saying that when everything was going good. Like, calm down. To be able to have a coach not listen to that noise is great.”

Smart shrugs.

“No matter what I do, good or bad — especially bad — it’s going to be blown up, and that’s just what it is,” he says. “That’s how it’s been for me always. But I don’t care about that. I’m doing my job, and my job is to win games.”

Glancing at the Celtics’ record, now would seem to be a rather opportune time for a Marcus Smart job review.


Read More