Marcus Smart wrote a piece for The Player's Tribune this past Thursday, and I gotta say it was everything I needed to hear before heading into this best of seven series with Chicago.
While I've been thinking about the playoffs from the moment the Celtics signed Al Horford, Smart wrote that he didn't begin thinking about playoffs until just a few nights ago. It was after the C's win over the Nets, The Cavs were headed to OT against the Heat and Marcus Smart was headed straight for a TV. He goes into detail about how he watched the game in silence with a bunch of members of the media. As we all know, Miami beat Cleveland and Boston moved into first place. This is the moment that it all started to seem possible. The Celtics were one win away from clinching the No. 1 seed in the East. Fast forward to a win over the Bucks and it's official. Boston earned the one seed and Cleveland finished in second.It's playoff time... https://t.co/Hc0oU7nA3A— marcus smart (@smart_MS3) April 13, 2017
"This is the most talented team I’ve ever been on, but it’s funny: Looking at our starting five, you might not say, “That’s a No. 1 seed right there.”
I watch a lot of NBA games and I'm telling you...not every team is diving for loose balls in January during a road game in Milwaukee after playing three games in four days. This Boston team plays with enough intensity to make a hockey fan change his or her stance on "how much the NBA sucks." Anyone who doesn't think basketball is a physical sport hasn't watched this Celtics team play.
Smart moves on from the present to take a look into the past. He begins by talking about his first year in Boston, and some of the struggles he had on and off the court. Smart grew up in Texas, played his college ball in Oklahoma and Smart's rookie season just so happened to line up with Boston's worst winter in a decade. He goes on to talk about being sent down to the D-League, and how he struggled from the field (I mean he's still not that consistent of a shooter, but at least he's confident out there right?)
While his rookie year wasn't necessarily what Boston fans were hoping for, there were a few flashes of the Marcus Smart that we have come to know and love. One moment, in particular, stood out to Marcus. It was a regular season game against a Nets team that had KG and Paul Pierce. Smart dove to the ground for a loose ball which led to a Celtics bucket (pretty routine nowadays.) But this loose ball was special...After the steal, Kevin Garnett tapped Smart on the chest and told him he made a good play. Sure this doesn't sound like THAT big of a deal but think about it. An NBA legend, the KING of giving everything he's got just paid you respect after a making a hustle play? That's like the first time you do something on your own and your dad tells you that he's proud of you. Smart says this is a moment that made him realize that he doesn't have to score a ton of points to make an impact on the game.
"I think that’s what makes this Celtics team so special this year. Each player knows his role."
Smart reminisces about the playoff series against Atlanta last year, which the Celtics lost in six games. He attributes being eliminated in the first round to making mental mistakes late in games and the absence of Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk. He does bring up a bright spot from the series however, a moment that most NBA fans couldn't recall, but any true Celtic fan will never forget. It was late in game 4 and Paul Millsap was absolutely destroying Boston, they had no answer for him (he finished the game with 45 points.) Normally when a guy is having his way in the post, the last thing a coach would think to do is throw a point guard on him. Smart ended up holding Millsap to just two points, and knocked down a couple of clutch threes. He was a HUGE reason why the Celtics were able to pull out the victory. For Stevens to task Smart with stopping the dominant big man in a playoff game was huge confidence booster for the young guard.
For some perspective on Marcus Smart's impact for Celtics tonight vs Paul Millsap ... #CelticsTalk pic.twitter.com/THgLrBA0qI— Max Lederman (@Max_Lederman) April 25, 2016
"Now it’s April again, and I’m telling you: We’re ready."
Smart made a promise in his Player's Tribune post. He promised that this year's team is more disciplined and "way hungrier" than last year. He backs his statement up by saying he knows this because of Isaiah Thomas. Not just because Isaiah is shooting the lights out, but because of a special moment that happened with "the little guy" earlier this year after a practice. The two guards were walking off the court side-by-side and Marcus Smart made the terrible mistake of patting Isaiah Thomas on the head. The smile on Thomas' face disappeared, and Smart knew right then and there that nobody pats Isaiah on the head.
"You don't pat him on the head. You don't mess with Isaiah. You respect him."
While this is kind of amusing I imagine it is very true. Smart doesn't make it clear why Isaiah didn't like the pat on the head, but I have two thoughts. One is that Isaiah has been counted out for his size his playing, and a pat on the head is something you do to a puppy who learned not to pee on the living room carpet. My next thought is that while this team's rise to power kind of came out of nowhere, Isaiah knows that they haven't accomplished their goal yet. They haven't even won a playoff series yet. It's because Isaiah knows, that this year is different...And it seems like Marcus Smart now knows the same thing.
Go get 'em boys.
Photo: David Butler II/ USA Today Sports
Photo: Barry Chin/ Globe Staff