BOSTON – Marcus Smart signed a new contract with the Boston Celtics last week, so we’re celebrating his return by reliving some of the top moments of his career thus far.
From his plethora of game-winning, hustle plays to his timely offensive performances there were plenty of moments to choose from, but we’ve managed to narrow the list down to five. So, without further ado, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane.
5. The Cobra is Born
By Game 14 of his rookie season, Marcus Smart made it clear that he was going to be a one-of-a-kind type of NBA player. While facing off against the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 26, 2014, the 20-year-old point guard performed his first highlight hustle play, and it helped set the stage for a tenacious career.
During the third quarter of the matchup, Nets point guard Jarrett Jack was carrying the ball up the court when he briefly lost his handle. Smart seized the opportunity by diving on the floor for the loose ball.
Just as Smart grabbed ahold of the rock, Brooklyn big man Kevin Garnett came flying in to try to jar it loose, but Smart acted quickly and tossed it over his head to a streaking Jeff Green for an easy fast-break dunk.
The Big Ticket is not one who typically compliments opposing players mid-game, but even he was impressed by Smart’s persistence. As soon as Smart got up, Garnett walked over to him, patted him on the chest and let the first-year-guard know he had made a good play.
“Just that one little compliment from KG meant so much,” Smart later reflected in a Players’ Tribune article. “At that time in my rookie year, it was the dose of confidence I needed to keep playing my style of basketball.”
Smart’s style of basketball can best be described with one word: Hustle. And diving on a loose ball has become his signature hustle play.
In fact, the act has become so common for Smart that he has earned the nickname “The Cobra.” And fans will never forget the first time he struck his prey.
4. An A-Plus Effort vs. Russ
Marcus Smart’s first trip back to his collegiate state of Oklahoma was the highlight performance of his rookie year. However, his season-high 25-point effort on March 18, 2015 was marred by a 37-point performance by Russell Westbrook and a 122-118 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Fortunately, Smart had another career night in store for his next trip back to OKC.
On Nov. 15, 2015, the sophomore guard set a new career high with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He added eight rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal to the effort while only committing one turnover.
On the other side of the ball, he helped limit Westbrook to a dismal shooting performance, holding the superstar point guard to a 5-of-20 effort from the field, including 2-of-10 from long range, while forcing him to commit four turnovers.
Smart’s strong, two-way effort led Boston to a 100-85 win at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and his 26-point performance remains tied for his regular-season career high.
3. The Season-Saving Layup
With six games left in the 2014-15 regular season, the Celtics found themselves sitting on the outside of playoff contention. They had lost six of their last 10 games heading into their April 4 matchup in Toronto, and things were not looking good as they trailed the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors 116-115 with 2.6 seconds left in overtime.
However, a miracle, last-second bucket from Boston’s rookie point guard saved the game – and possibly the season.
With time for just one play, Celtics swingman Evan Turner inbounded the ball to Isaiah Thomas, who was cutting in from the back court. Without breaking stride, Thomas sprinted to the hoop for a potential game-winning layup. However, Toronto’s entire defense collapsed on Thomas, so he couldn’t find a hole to the basket.
His only option was to shovel the ball off to Smart, who was cutting in from the right corner.
With less than one second remaining at this point, Smart barely had enough time to catch the rock. When it found his fingertips he immediately tossed it forward like a hot potato and it somehow bounced perfectly off the backboard and through the net just as the buzzer sounded.
The bucket gave Boston a 117-116 victory and completely shifted the team’s momentum. The C’s went on to win the final six games of the regular season and squeezed into the postseason with the East’s seventh seed.
2. A Scoring Frenzy in the ECF
The Celtics had only 19 minutes to make up a 21-point deficit on May 21, 2017 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, or else they would be facing a 3-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Without leading scorer Isaiah Thomas, who had suffered a season-ending hip injury during Game 2, this task seemed impossible.
Thomas’ replacement, however, did everything in his power to fill the offensive void, and it proved to be just enough to get Boston over the hump and into the win column.
Smart, making his first start of the postseason, erupted for a career-best 27 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 7-of-10 from 3-point range. He tacked on seven assists, five rebounds and a pair of steals, all while helping to limit LeBron James to just 11 points – the lowest scoring effort at home of his postseason career.
Smart’s overall performance boosted the C’s to an unlikely, 111-108 win at Quicken Loans Arena, bringing Boston within one game of the Cavs.
Cleveland would go on to win the next two games to capture the series, but Smart’s Game 3 offensive outpour still stands as the top performance of his career.
1. Out-Smarting Harden
You’re probably wondering how the top performance of Smart’s career could possibly be outranked on this list. The keyword of this list, however, is “moment.” And there is one moment from Smart’s career that stands high above all others.
On Dec. 28, 2017, the Celtics staged one of the most impressive comebacks in franchise history, storming back from a 26-point second-half deficit to top the league-leading Houston Rockets.
Even more spectacular than the comeback itself, however, was how Smart won the game for the Celtics without even touching the ball.
After Jayson Tatum cut Boston’s deficit to 98-97 with 7.3 seconds left, Smart turned his attention to James Harden. Smart knew Houston would be looking to get the ball into the hands of its superstar, so he draped himself all over Harden in an effort to shut him out of the play.
Harden became frustrated by the suffocating defense, so he threw an elbow at Smart’s chest and got called for an offensive foul.
The Celtics, out of timeouts, quickly inbounded the ball into the post to Al Horford, who canned a hook shot with 3.7 seconds left to give Boston its first lead of the game.
Houston still had an opportunity to try for a win, but Smart wasn’t going to let them have that chance. He attempted the same tactic as before and baited Harden into committing another offensive foul before the Rockets could inbound the ball to put a seal on the game.
Smart didn’t come close to setting any career highs that night, but his career hasn’t been defined by statistics. It’s been defined by game-winning, hustle plays – and this was the best of the best.