Celtics Take Down Pistons Thanks to Marcus Smart’s Daredevil Assist
Marcus Smart made a play on Saturday night that will register in the box score as a rebound and a missed field goal attempt. Ironically, the best assist of the night does not count as an assist. Al Horford appeared after Smart catapulted himself through a crowd, landing awkwardly on the side of his neck and head in the process. Horford flipped the ball off the glass with a second remaining, leading the Celtics to a 94–92 victory over Detroit.
Here are some words to help paint the Marcus Smart portrait (my favorites are in bold, thanks to Merriam-Webster’s):
Here are the extended highlights:
The win is the 7th of Boston’s season, nudging them over the .500 mark. With 69 games remaining, the win will most likely get lost in the shuffle of the NBA season. Casual fans start paying close attention in February or March.
Here’s why it felt like an important victory: Al Horford (concussion symptoms which lingered much longer than anyone seemed to anticipate) hadn’t suited up since October 29th. Jae Crowder (severe ankle sprain) was out for 8 games and the second half of the November 2nd matchup with Chicago. A victory in their return brings a morale boost to a team that needed one. The fact that it came over a Pistons team that was unbeaten at home (5–0) coming in, makes it that much sweeter.
Crowder is one of the most impactful NBA players on a current roster unlikely to ever make an All-Star team. Crowder came to Boston with a versatile skill-set, but without much range. Though he’s worked hard enough to be a decent shooter (remember his ankle injury impacted his % over the last month of 2015–16 and in the playoffs), Jae’s influence on a game is seen in hustle, confidence, and the balance he provides. Crowder’s ability to defend three positions boosts his impact, and his consistent ability to come through in fourth quarter situations gives fans a sense of reliability unseen in the clutch. Excluding the indomitable Isaiah, of course. Good teams become great teams when they can win close games in which they don’t play their best. Last year, Crowder finished 26th in the NBA in ESPN’s real plus-minus. Horford finished 22nd.
Despite the absence of two of their three most important players, the Celtics salvaged wins over Chicago, New York, Indiana (minus Paul George) and Dallas (minus Dirk). The only loss that was any kind of surprise was the last-second (106–105) L in New Orleans. In that game, the Celtics shot 12–41 from deep, inluding a rusty 1 of 7 from Olynyk. Still, Boston is 7–6 after 13 games because of these reasons:
- Isaiah Thomas carrying the load, especially in some brilliant 4th quarter performances. Thomas has a 32.7 usage rate and is limiting turnovers (only 2.4 per game in November). By getting to the free-throw line with his uncanny finishes and body control (nearly 11 attempts in 33 min/game in November), IT is scoring nearly 27 ppg in those 33 minutes.
- Avery Bradley’s three-point shooting, rebounding, and defense. Without two of their bigs, Boston’s already weak rebounding has been more than vulnerable. Bradley has done a great job in their absence, hauling in 8.5 rebounds per game (best in the NBA for a guard). In addition, Avery is connecting on 40% from deep, which is especially valuable when that comes with 5 attempts per game.
- Terry Rozier’s range is legit. He’s shown the summer league and preseason were not mirages. His form is better, and he’s knocking down a team-best 45% in the early going. As always, Rozier’s rebounding is ferocious. He can outjump many taller players. In yesterday’s win at Detroit he pulled down a big fourth quarter defensive board then ignited a break by himself, getting fouled. In only 19 minutes per game, 3.5 rebounds from a guard is more than solid. Those 20 minutes at the backup point guard are in good hands with Terry’s improvement. Remember, he’s only 22.
- Jaylen Brown was going to get rotation minutes. We just didn’t know how many and how quickly he would acclimate himself. In just his 5th NBA game, Brown was given a ridiculous test. Cleveland. Defend LeBron. Play 35 minutes. Try not to get embarrased. Instead, Jaylen finished with 19 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, and a dunk that came off of his own first-step, leaving LeBron in the dust. Brown’s performance allowed Boston to stay within shouting distance against the Cavs, despite the absence of Al and Jae. Since then, Jaylen has played 15–20 minutes and done about what you’d expect. He’s shown flashes, shooting 35% from deep (a number that we’ll be watching for the next two years from him), and had another 3-steal game.
- No turnovers. Celtics are tied for 8th in turnover percentage.
- Solid defense against some of the weaker opponents (Dallas minus Dirk and minus Deron Williams is one of the ugliest offensive teams I’ve ever seen). Still, Boston is holding opponents to below average eFG% (10th in the NBA).
Monday 11/21 @ Minnestota (8pm)
Thibodeau’s bunch have had their share of lost leads early in the year. As one would expect from a team of under-25 players who are trying to figure out a new system and have a relentless coach with high defensive expectations. Why would one expect that? Let downs happen when a team isn’t used to the sustained defensive effort of 48 minutes. The Baby Wolves (4–8) have lost by a pair of close games, and the rest of their games have been blow-outs. Recently, Wiggins exploded for 47 against the Lakers. The Wolves will tease fans with potential this year. Next year, they will be playoff-worthy.
Wednesday 11/23 @ Brooklyn (730pm)
The Nets looked surprisingly not-awful for the few games, going 4–5. Looking closer, those wins were not quality, other than Detroit. They’ve been obliterated in four of their last six. Not surprisingly, those came with Jeremy Lin in streetclothes, nursing a hamstring issue.
Friday 11/25 vs San Antonio (1pm)
This is the one I’m excited about. Unfortunately, its a matinee, which probably means a sloppy first half. The day after Thanksgiving, and its a matinee? I suppose the schedulers were trying to make early flights possible during the day after the whole league is off (Thursday). Watching Kawhi Leonard is one of the NBA’s special treats.
Here’s the crazy ending to the win at Detroit, with a great play-by-play from two Chinese commentators.