If you weren’t thrilled to see Marcus Smart return to the floor for the Celtics on Thursday night, I have no choice but to assume you were wearing all white at FTX Arena, only to then head out for the night early. of the fourth quarter, if not earlier. Or, you’re Jimmy Butler.
In fact, we shouldn’t judge the Heat fans who left early, of which there seemed to be many. The hosts took an 18-8 lead early, and there was a glimmer of tension in the third quarter, but otherwise the Celtics completely dismantled the Heat in Game 2, taking a 25-point lead at halftime. time, holding serve with a 25 point. lead at the end of three, and cruise to a 25-point win (127-102) to tie the series at one game apiece.
The victory, and the manner in which it was achieved, was confirmation that the Celtics should win this series without too much suspense, provided their starting five of Smart, Al Horford, Robert Williams, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown remain. upright and intact. .
Williams was back to being himself after missing four Bucks series games with a bone bruise in his knee. Horford returned as a stabilizing force as usual in Game 2 after missing Game 1 while caught in the purgatory of NBA health and safety protocols.
And smart? Well, all he did on Thursday night was change everything for the better, to the point – and not to go overboard here, but man, it’s irresistible – that the Celtics are starting to feel like future NBA champions.
Smart missed Game 1 with a foot injury, and the Celtics missed him in many ways in a 118-107 loss prompted by a disastrous third quarter in which the Heat beat visitors, 39-14.
In Game 2, he played like a man who had sorely missed being on the pitch for this game and vowed to make it all right when he returned.
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘Match 2, you play, I don’t care how injured you are, you have to give it a shot,'” Smart said after a stunt in which he scored 24 points, dished out 12 assists, grabbed 9 rebounds and jumped for 3 steals, while playing a team-record 40 minutes, committing just one turnover and locking in Heat star Jimmy Butler, the streak scorer Tyler Herro and any other unfortunate soul he was tipped on the defensive.
“As always, he sets the tone,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. Ability to pass and move to bigger bodies and just another good defender to throw at Butler and [Bam] Adebayo and some of those guys and not having to worry about them trying to go after some matchups. He brings the physical every night and puts everyone in line.
Smart’s performance also featured his usual idiosyncratic touches, those Marcus Moments that sometimes made him a polarizing player, but often made him so distinctly fun to watch.
He confidently hoisted a team-high 22 shots (Tatum scored eight field goals, as many as Smart, on nine fewer attempts), swept a base shot (plus a foul) behind the backboard that reminded Larry Bird in execution if not style, argued with referees that a Heat player had “grabbed [the ball] with his feet” (something he has surely tried himself before), and missed a lay-up at the break when he wrapped the ball around his waist for no particular reason. He was 2 of 11 on the field in the first half, but was essential to dominating in so many other areas that his plus/minus was plus-26 Those Marcus moments, man.
It should also be noted that it was Smart who stemmed the tide when the resilient Heat threatened to get back into the game late in the third quarter.
Miami had cut the Celtics’ lead to 17, shaking up the remaining crowd, when Smart shut down the idea of a comeback. He stripped the ball from Adebayo at one end, then sent Miami’s Max Strus to the ground with a crossover motion before burying a jumper. That put the Celtics up, 86-67, and after drilling a three on a cross pass from Tatum a minute later, the Heat’s hopes were officially extinguished.
The most amusing dichotomy regarding Smart is that a player who plays with an electric current of emotion running through his limbs has become a model of stability, correct execution and poise. The Celtics lacked his energy in Game 1, but they lacked much more: his knowledge of where to go and how best to get there, his defensive intensity and versatility, his shrewd play that lightens the Tatum’s burden in particular, and his calming influence as the Celtics’ floor general.
“I’m blessed to be in this situation and to have the opportunity to come out and show what I can do,” Smart said.
Thursday night, coming out of injury, Marcus Smart did it all. His foot seems fine. His heart was never questioned.
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