By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Oh, that Marcus Smart. There is no one quite like him in the NBA, a unique specimen that will make you jump with joy one second and want to rip your hair out in frustration the next. He is a one-man roller coaster of emotions.
But he is our one-man roller coaster, and if Celtics fans have learned anything in Smart’s six years with the franchise, it’s to never count him out. Even if he’s tossing up an 0-for from the floor, he’s going to make a play or two or ten that leads to a Celtics win. And if he doesn’t, he isn’t going to quit. Ever.
Tuesday night’s Game 2 against Toronto was just the latest example, as a struggling Smart suddenly found himself on fire in the fourth quarter. His NBA Jam burst in the final frame helped lead Boston to a 102-99 win over the Raptors and a 2-0 series lead over the defending champs.
Smart hit five straight threes in the fourth quarter, including three in a 72-second span to erase an eight-point Toronto lead. He was fouled on his fifth make, and the four-point play gave the Celtics an 86-85 lead with just under eight minutes to play.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 2, 2020
After Smart scored 16 straight for the Celtics, the Raptors had no choice but to up their defense on him. That led to better looks for his teammates, allowing Kemba Walker (with 11 fourth-quarter points) and Jayson Tatum (five points, four assists in the fourth) to carry the load the rest of the way for Boston, feeding off the absurdity that they had just witnessed.
“Smart gave us that spark when we needed it. He was amazing,” said Tatum, who fed Smart on each of those three straight triples. “He can do a little bit of everything and we saw it tonight, whether it’s getting big stops or going on an offensive run to give us life and energy. Smart was amazing tonight.”
“Marcus has been a winning player since he got here,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “We’ve been in the playoffs every year since he’s been here and that’s no coincidence.”
Asked about Smart’s heroics after the game, Walker could only shake his head.
“There is only one Marcus Smart, I’ll tell you that much,” said Walker. “Different beast. That dude is unbelievable. I say it all the time, he’s a monster. I love playing with that dude. His intensity is unmatched. He’s just really fun to be on the court with him.
“He just raises our level [of intensity],” added Walker. “That’s just the will to win. He has that and he brings that to our team.”
Smart’s confidence never waivers, no matter how he is playing. That swagger is perhaps the most important part of who Marcus Smart is on the court.
“That’s just me. Growing up I always had confidence. That’s just what it is,” said Smart, who finished with 19 points, three rebounds and a pair of blocks in the win. “I believe in myself and always will.”
Smart was 1-for-7 from the floor and had hit just one of his five three-point attempts before his hand caught fire in the fourth quarter. He knew that if he got one to fall, the floodgates would open.
“I was just telling myself that the shots I was taking were ringing in and out. Kept telling myself I just need to see one go in. I knew when the first one went in, when I got it again I was shooting,” said Smart, commending Tatum for his slick passing.
Like many of Smart’s opponents, the Raptors were letting him know about his woeful shooting night. They quickly learned learned that was a mistake. As always, Smart takes his struggles — and the trash talk — in stride.
“I tell them never to give me a good look, because all I need is one,” he said. “Just had to let them know I had a couple more in the chamber.”
Smart finished Tuesday’s win 6-for-11 from downtown, and he’s now 11-for-20 from deep against the Raptors. This comes after he made just two of his 15 threes in Boston’s first-round sweep against the Philadelphia 76ers.
“The series against Philly, we had guys like Jayson and Jaylen [Brown] who were really rolling, so my touches were limited. And that’s OK,” he said. “I just have to do what I have to do, play D and the little things. Same thing this series. Tonight my team needed more scoring and I provided it.”
No one knows what Game 3 will hold for Marcus Smart. That hot hand may cool off come Thursday night, and he could just as easily put up another frustrating offensive evening. Maybe he’ll come out hot and cool off late. Maybe he won’t score at all, and will instead make all the plays he needs to on defense. Whatever he does, it’s going to include a lot of ups and downs and loops and twirls.
It’s always a roller coaster with Marcus Smart, one of the most unique players in the NBA.
“I’ve never played with nobody like Smart. I’ve never met nobody like Smart,” said Tatum. “He is one of a kind. Anyone who watches him play or knows him knows there is no one like Smart.”
Well said, Jayson.