Rust was always going to be an issue for Marcus Smart in the wake of an eye infection that sidelined him for nearly three weeks last month. Smart lost some weight and struggled to keep his conditioning during the lengthy ordeal and it was easy to tell in his early games back on the court. Smart shot 30 percent or worse in five of those six contests and it’s no surprise the C’s struggled in those games (3-3 overall) with the spotty offensive performances.
The Celtics were shorthanded in many of those games and that led to what could be termed as Smart’s downfall as a player: trying to do too much on the offensive end. He shot the ball 10 times or more in four of those six losses, which helped to drag down Boston’s offense in the process. The damage was particularly daunting beyond the arc as Smart was just 9-of-37 from beyond the arc prior to his 24-point outburst in Philadelphia on Thursday.
Smart may have been the best player on the floor for Boston in that loss but his play has become even more encouraging over the last two games from a big picture perspective. The reason? Smart is reverting back to the best version of himself on the offensive end: A low volume shooter and facilitator.
The reserve guard’s best was on display in Monday’s 113-101 win over the Bulls during which he was a team-high +25. He scored 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting while dishing out a team-high 8 assists over 33 minutes. That performance was a nice follow up to just four shot attempts and six assists against the Pelicans on Saturday night.
“It feels good,” Smart said of his effort. “Those two and a half weeks I was out, really took a toll on me mentally, physically and emotionally not being out there with those guys and just really stuck in one room, in solitary confinement, and not being able to do anything. It was tough. So it feels good to get my legs back under me and to really get my wind back.”
“Obviously he had the huge scoring game against Philly and was maybe our best player in that game, but his last two of games have been just as good,” Brad Stevens added. “He was so engaged Saturday night in leading and talking and then today I thought he was great. Whether he has nights where he gets open looks and is able to knock them down or nights where they’re guarding you tight and you gotta make a play for somebody else, I mean it’s going to be really critical that he continues to do that. He’s been a great boost for us. I think he’s starting to find himself after being out so long in these last three, four games.”
The C’s offensive formula is highly dependent on the right shots going to the right guys and Smart is a pivotal part of that as a decision-maker. He is at his best when he is sharing the ball and that’s easier for him to do when playing with a healthy squad. The extra pressure he puts on himself to be an offensive contributor fades since it isn’t really needed with four guys playing at an All-Star level around him. Instead, Smart can take open 3s when they are there and focus on moving the ball.
“Just really not letting too much of the talent get in the way,” Smart said. “There is only one ball out there and we have a lot of guys that can do things with the ball and off the ball. We just have to make sure that we keep playing for one another and keep giving guys space when they do have the ball and when you don't have the ball, just be ready because it's coming.”
The Celtics are going to need Smart to be a solid shooter to be a great team but keeping his volume down is just