BOSTON (CBS) – Rajon Rondo got all the headlines during Boston’s season opening win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. The attention wasn’t much of a surprise since that’s what happens when Rondo flirts with a triple-double after being unable to play during the preseason thanks to a broken left hand.
Rondo’s performance was terrific news for the Celtics, but it also overshadowed another promising development for the team from Wednesday: rookie Marcus Smart appears ready to contribute in a big way this season.
The no. 6 overall pick in 2014 NBA Draft came off the bench for Brad Stevens and led all reserves with 27 minutes on the night in a debut any rookie would love to have. His full line of 10 points, two rebounds, two assists showed a well-rounded performance from the first-year guard.
“It was great; great feeling,” Smart said of his TD Garden debut. “Surprisingly I had no nerves going into it, I was very relaxed and calm so that’s a good thing.”
Smart’s lack of nerves showed in his play on the defensive end as he hounded top Brooklyn starters such as Joe Johnson and Deron Williams for the majority of the evening. Smart’s game-high four steals provided the Celtics with plenty of easy opportunities in transition, and earned him one admirer on the opposing bench.
“The kid is very impressive,” Kevin Garnett said following the game. This is my first time seeing him live, playing against him and stuff. He and Rondo and Avery, that’s going to be a tandem. I can’t wait to watch some of the games. They played great tonight. They seemed to have a nice chemistry together. I hope they can be consistent with that.”
Heading into the regular season, many skeptics wondered about how Smart would be able to fit into a Celtics lineup alongside Rondo, but Brad Stevens silenced those doubters quickly. Brooklyn opted to go small for the vast majority of the second half and the Celtics responded by playing the trio of Rondo, Smart and Bradley together for several minutes. It is a look that could have some staying power, according to the head coach.
“Obviously there’s disadvantages to that [lineup], too, because of size,” Stevens said Thursday at practice, “But Marcus’ strength, he weighs 230 pounds – gives you a chance to guard guys that are bigger and taller. Late in the game, Joe Johnson was isolated on the block. And Joe Johnson very easily could have scored what he missed, but rather than giving up a 3 because we’re over-helping or freaking out that a guard is being posted, just let him guard him. Marcus gives you that luxury a little bit.”
The added depth in the backcourt is also giving Stevens the option to hound opponents with ball pressure for entire games now.
“I don’t think you can do it with one [guard] here [in the pros],” Stevens explained of full court pressure. “I think the game’s too long. And I think you have to pick your spots with three, to be honest, but I do think it’s a luxury. It’s what we’ve said is our strength. Our perimeter quickness is something that we’ve identified from really the minute we drafted Marcus Smart. And knowing that you’ve got Avery back, and then you’ve got a guy like Rondo.
“I think we’ll have to pick and choose [when to go small], but hey, let’s say you’re down. You need to extend the floor and want to get into the ball. Let’s say that you want to create a driving advantage for your team. You’re going to use that. I’m certainly not afraid to play small, so we might play that some.”
Stevens’ thinking will be put to the test almost immediately as the Celtics face off against two explosive offenses in Houston and Dallas in the next two games. Smart knows it was a strong start Wednesday but wants to keep the focus on moving forward as a group on the defensive end.
“The main thing for us was help defense and I feel like for us we did a great job and we just have to continue to improve, move onto the next game because we are playing a great team next. We just got to continue to help each other on team defense because we have some great individual defensive players so the key for us is team defense.”
MORE CELTICS NEWS FROM CBS BOSTON