By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON — The rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers may not be as heated as it used to be. Still, there is no question that some bad blood is always felt between both sides and that was evident early during Friday’s matchup at the TD Garden.
Lakers guard Nick Young started to light a fire in the belly of the Celtics early in the contest with some showboating after a pair of 3s in the first quarter. Marcus Smart was watching those expressions closely from the Celtics bench and made note of stopping them when he entered the game a few minutes later.
“They hit a couple shots, were dancing and mocking us and things like that — like it’s just gonna be easy for them,” Smart explained. “That really persuaded me to go out there and do my best to shut that down.”
Smart did just that for much of the final 36 minutes. After a hot start from the field, the Lakers were limited to just 36 percent shooting from the moment that Smart entered the game. LA’s offense, which is heavily reliant on offense from guards, ran into trouble against the third-year guard who matched a season-high with five steals and lead all Celtics with a plus/minus of +11.
The performance was a turning point in Boston’s sixth straight win overall after a sluggish first quarter.
“I thought he was probably the one individual you could single out in that first quarter that got us headed in the right direction because his defense changed our defense,” Brad Stevens said.
“He was the key to everything,” Isaiah Thomas added. “For us turning that game around, he was the key. He had the most energy out of all of us. He got defensive stops. He made the right play on offense. And we just fed off him. We came in here at halftime, we knew that he was the guy that changed the game. And everybody else had to follow. And we did that.”
Smart continues to struggle on the offensive end of the floor with his shooting, but his defensive spirit stands out on a nightly basis to his teammates demonstrating his pivotal value to the C’s recent hot streak.
“He really tries to punk a guy,” Jae Crowder said of Smart’s defense. “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes he lets his emotion get the best of him, but we’ll take it. More times than not it’s good for us.”
With the Celtics a mere 2.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top seed in the East, Smart’s impact should only rise with fellow defensive stalwart Avery Bradley expected to return to the court later this month.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.