Marcus Smart plays surprising role in ugly collapse against Nets

(Kathyn Riley/Getty Images)

For three quarters, Marcus Smart was the best player on the floor for the Celtics on Tuesday night. It wasn’t an impressive shooting night in classic Smart form (4-of-12 from 3-point range) but the normally savvy guard was contributing across the box score with a team-high nine assists, two steals and two blocks to go along with 12 points and 5 rebounds.

The Nets had only managed to muster 67 points on 35 percent shooting from the field with their offensively challenged lineup during the opening 36 minutes thanks in large part to Smart. Caris LeVert had a modest 14 points in 18 minutes.

Everything seemed to be going to plan for Boston despite the fact Jayson Tatum (illness) and Gordon Hayward (bruised knee) weren’t available in the second half. With Kemba Walker’s minutes limit also in place in his first game back from his knee injection, a blowout win was a welcome possibility and that’s where this game was headed after the Celtics led by 17 points at the start of the fourth quarter.

To say that things fell apart late for Boston from there may be the understatement of the season. The hosts surrendered a 51-point fourth quarter, the second-most allowed in franchise history in the overtime defeat. It was the first time a team scored 50 points in a quarter all season in the NBA. Amazingly, Caris LeVert scored 37 points in the fourth quarter and overtime on his way to 51 overall in the 129-120 victory, single-handedly outscoring the entire Celtics roster in those final 17 minutes by himself.

“We didn’t have any defensive intensity,” Brad Stevens said of the late collapse “I should have subbed a couple of guys out that normally play, and I just kept them in. We had the right intensity for most of the game and we just let our foot off the gas. But we got four stops in the fourth quarter.”

For as bad as things went in the fourth quarter, the Celtics were seemingly still in control with as few as four minutes remaining in regulation. They still led by 13 at that point following a  Jaylen Brown layup before the Nets erupted for 27 points in the final 4:04 of regulation. So what exactly happened in that debacle, particularly on the defensive end to open the door for the epic collapse? There is plenty of blame to be handed out, but the biggest piece of the pie goes to Smart —particularly in the final minute of this one.