PFB - Marcus Smart Is Willing His Team to the Finals the Only Way He Knows How

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Feb 17, 2018
When the ball gets rolled out onto the floor of Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night, the No. 2-seeded, yet universal underdog, Boston Celtics will have a chance to take a commanding 3-0 lead over the reigning King of the Eastern Conference, LeBron James.

At 2-0, the series isn’t over but the Celtics are in the driver’s seat to dethrone James and make their first finals appearance since 2009-10, the last time LeBron wasn’t invited. And they’ve somehow done it sans arguably their two best players in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving.

You could point to the basketball savant that is Brad Stevens, or the young budding stars like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, or the underrated superstar, Al Horford. But the driving force behind this surging green machine stands 6 foot 4 — minus the Texas-sized chip on his shoulder — and has started a total of 11 games this season.

Marcus Smart has turned himself into the most important player on one of the four best teams in basketball, and he’s done it the only way he knows how — with true grit and fueled by effort and reckless abandon.

He’s a savvy defender and an apt playmaker but his greatest asset is that energizer bunny that ticks behind his left breast.

This Marcus Smart effort literally made me gasp

— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) May 16, 2018

After missing 20 games and over a month after he injured his right thumb — you guessed it — diving for a loose ball, Smart returned to a Celtic team tied 2-2 in their first round series with the No. 7 seed Milwaukee Bucks. Since his return, Boston is 8-2 and now stands on the doorstep of history.

In those 10 games, Smart has averaged 10.5 points, five assists, four rebounds and 1.9 steals. But his stat line does little to tell the story of his influence on this team. He’s at one time the glue guy, the spark plug, the heart — and at the ripe old age of 24 — somehow a veteran leader. He’s every cliche rolled into one. He’s that guy that we hear that every championship team needs.

Just punch #WinningPlays into your Twitter search window and you’ll think the fiery guard had his name legally changed.

Marcus Smart with the hustle and finish!#CUsRise 95 | #WhateverItTakes 87

5:00 remaining in the 4th on @ESPNNBA

— NBA (@NBA) May 16, 2018

The King himself bowed down to Smart after a dramatic Game 2 ending. Smart had 11 points, five boards, nine assists and four steals in 31 minutes. He was a +21 in Boston’s 13-point victory. Nobody else in the game was more than a +14.

“I think Marcus always makes plays at the right time,” said James. “His ability to play multiple positions, but they put the ball in his hands and they trust him to take plays for others.

“He has a really uncanny ability to get into the lane and either creates for himself or create for others, and he did that tonight with the nine assists and also had some offensive rebounds … He’s always been very productive for their ball club.”

As a fanbase that got to see the birth of Smart’s star first-hand, we have a special affinity for the enigmatic point guard.

Though his effort has been a constant since before he and Phil Forte were kicking up dust on the practice court in Flower Mound, Texas, he was never the purest scorer, even in college.

We saw Smart light up GIA on occasion but his scoring acumen was more a product of his ability to bully the opposition than his shooting stroke. When he showed up on campus in Stillwater as an 18-year old he already looked more like a grown man than I ever will in my entire life.

But overpowering seasoned NBA vets is a different story and it didn’t take long for the No. 6 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft to realize that he wouldn’t be pushing for an NBA scoring title anytime soon.

Instead, he threw himself even harder into filling the other, less glamorous roles. He threw himself that much harder into, well, everyone else. The end product? A pissed-off caricature of Tony Allen on steroids.

“Well, I think he’s as tough as they come, right; he’s a true competitor,” said Boston head coach Brad Stevens. “He matches his intensity with a physical toughness. We talked about it before the game.

“People talk about him all the time. Sometimes they focus on things that don’t matter, and the other times they focus on that he impacts winning. We are really glad he’s on our team.”

If your team is playing against him, there’s no shortage of unrepeatable adjectives. If you are anyone else, there’s no shortage of hashtags. If you root for the Celtics — you’re ready to build him a damned statue outside of the TD Garden.


— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 16, 2018

But don’t draw up plans just yet. There may not be fairy tale ending in Boston for Smart, and I’m not talking about this playoff run. He and the team were unable to come to terms on a deal last fall which means that the fourth-year player will be on the market this summer.

While the Celtics have the ability to match any qualifying offer, Smart’s stock has likely only risen since his playoff return. And to further complicate things, the Celtics backcourt gets even more crowded if and when Kyrie Irving returns healthy.

Will Boston be willing to pay say $12 million to keep him on as a third-string point guard? Will he be willing to take a pay cut and stay in the backseat with a contender instead of cashing in on a big deal and a starting spot for a worse team?

That’s a question Smart will have to answer and one he has every right to consider, but that’s the furthest thing from his mind right now. He’s focused on one thing.

“We’re the underdogs,” Smart said after pushing his team to a 2-0 series lead. “We’re coming in, Cleveland is picked to beat us. We’ve got to come and give energy, extraordinary energy all the time, and I just try to be that spark plug.”

Marcus Smart brings the energy off the bench in Game 2, recording 11 PTS, 9 AST, 5 REB, 4 STL en route to the @celtics win!#CUsRise #NBAPlayoffs

— NBA (@NBA) May 16, 2018

The post Marcus Smart Is Willing His Team to the Finals the Only Way He Knows How appeared first on Pistols Firing.

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