The Marcus Smart factor - why the Celtics miss him

Let's face it. The Celtics miss Marcus Smart. Shortly after Marcus put himself out of commission with a self-inflicted hand injury, the team went on a four-game winning streak, but things have not gone well since then. The last win in that streak was a close 97-96 victory over Portland, and Boston has lost four of its last five games, including a 99-121 blowout loss to the newly-renovated Cavaliers.

For the season, Boston rates first in Defensive Rating in the League. For the 11 games that Smart has been out, they rank 9th. Terry Rozier, in timely fashion, has stepped up his game during the 11-game stretch, playing close to 30 minutes a game and notching averages of 15.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG and 4.5 APG.

Smart literally sets the tone for Boston's perimeter defense. He is tenacious, focused and physical. Anytime his opponent scores is taken as a personal insult, and knowing Marcus, probably as a failure. He takes it to heart. Without saying a word, his ferocious play prods every teammate to step it up on the defensive end. Energy begets energy. It's contagious. And it has been absent in the last 11 games.

If Al Horford is the brains of the team, and Kyrie Irving is the heart, Marcus Smart is certainly the soul. After every loss, Marcus should hear the confessions of every Celtic trying to explain why they didn't exert more energy and physicality in the contest.

Smart let himself and his team down when he punched the picture frame, and it shows. He should have been in there for those 11 games. He didn't get traded prior to the deadline, in large part, because Danny Ainge sees Smart as vital to the team's success. I expect a refocused Marcus to show up after the All-Star break and we may see changes to the lineup. It will be interesting to see what they are.

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