BOSTON (CBS) — For the first three quarters of Thursday night’s summer league tilt against the Orlando Magic, Marcus Smart’s shooting woes continued.
The Celtics rookie, who has hit just 28 percent of his shots from the floor through the summer slate’s first four games, was just 1-for-7 from the floor in the first half against Orlando. He took just one shot in the third quarter, entering the game’s final frame with just seven points.
But Smart, whose confidence never waivers, kept listening to his coaches and teammates, who have insisted that he keeps shooting this summer.
It turns out Smart saved his best performance for the fourth quarter. The sixth overall pick shot 3-for-6 from the field and hit all four of his free throws in the game’s final frame, scoring 12 of his team-high 19 points in Boston’s 76-67 victory.
“The coaching staff and this team, they had a lot of confidence in me. Even though my shot wasn’t falling early they told me to keep shooting the ball and keep playing. That’s what I did, and I guess the basketball gods rewarded me,” Smart said after his best performance of the summer.
Smart got his fourth quarter attack going with back-to-back threes at the top of the key, with his second putting Boston up 62-54 with 4:29 remaining.
But his most impressive bucket of the evening was the most important of the game — and possibly the play of the week. With 1:20 to go and Boston up 68-65, Smart found himself facing an Orlando double-team at the top of the key. He dribbled to his left, but found a third defender in his way. So Smart split the pair of defenders and attacked the basket. When he was met with another defender, he pulled a spin move and flipped the ball in off the glass with his left hand (watch here).
The move is one that will have Celtics fans in awe of the rookie’s ability to attack the basket. Smart said he didn’t do anything special on the play and just let his instincts take over.
“I just reacted to what the defense put in front of me, and that was the move,” Smart said after the game. “To be honest, I didn’t know I was going to scoop it with my left, but I’m glad it went in.”
“I think we’re seeing that he’s a pretty mentally tough kid,” said Celtics summer coach Jay Larranaga. “That’s not easy for anyone, to miss some shots and keep confidence. But I think he’s had such tremendous success throughout his life, so he can probably look back on times when ‘Oh, I was having a rough game, and I came back and hit the game-winning shot.’ I think that’s how he approaches every game.”
Smart heard some criticism at Oklahoma State for shooting the ball too much instead of being a play-maker. This summer, the Celtics wanted him to shoot. So while he doesn’t anticipate being an offensive force as the game ticks down too often, he’s more than happy to answer the call if needed.
But Smart, who was officially signed by the Celtics Thursday night, said a lot of Thursday night’s offensive explosion came due to his teammates on the floor.
“It’s not something like ‘OK, I need to do this.’ I did that in college and it didn’t turn out too well for me. I just let me teammates help me, and tonight was a night where things were going right for me,” he said. “They jumped on board and gave me the ball when I needed it. At the same time, it helped me the way they played; Mike Moser’s defense was incredible, CJ’s (Chris Johnson) defensive was incredible. I fed off those guys and started getting easy shots.”
With the misses piling up, it would be understandable for a 20-year-old rookie to get discouraged. But that’s not the case with Smart, who has a short memory when he’s on the floor.
“I think I can shoot the ball, but you can’t worry about the last play. You have to move on,” he said, channeling the mentality of a former Celtic and one of the best shooters of all-time. “Ray Allen, the best shooter in the NBA today, that’s why he is so good – he can go miss four in a row but you better believe that fifth shot, he’s taking it like he made four in a row. You just have to forget about that last shot and keep shooting.”
Smart’s summer numbers through four games — 13.5 points, 4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.2 steals per game — are impressive, but he is focused most on his 28 percent shooting from the floor. He said things could have gone better, giving himself a “B-minus” for a grade when pressed by reporters, but he’s happy with the progress he’s shown.
“It’s gone pretty well. It could have been a little better, but this is why you’re here in summer league – to learn,” he said. “To get better and learn things that you didn’t know before. So in those aspects it’s been good.”
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