In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Marcus Smart put together a game that even some of his biggest critics had to appreciate. Coming back after missing Game 1 with a foot injury, Smart played a critical role in the Celtics, 127-102 series-evening win over the Miami Heat.
Smart finished the game with 24 points on 8-of-22 shooting, which included a 5-12 mark from three. He flirted with a triple-double ending up with 12 assists and nine rebounds as well as three steals. With that effort, he became the first Celtic to record a 20-point, 10-assist, three-steal game in the playoffs since Rajon Rondo in 2012.
In the end, Smart led the team in shots taken, three pointers made, minutes, rebounds, assists, and steals while finishing behind only Jayson Tatum in points. On the defensive end of the floor, Smart defended Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler for 31 possessions, holding him to just nine points on those possessions. That helped right one of the biggest wrongs for the Celtics from Game 1, when Butler exploded for 41 points. He did all this after not playing just 48 hours ago due to a sprained foot.
“As always, he sets the tone. Defensive Player of the Year for the reason,” head coach Ime Udoka said after the game when asked about Smart’s return. “He brings the physicality every night, kind of gets everybody else in line.”
Udoka also highlighted Smart’s role in moving the basketball. With him not in the lineup in Game 1, the C’s turned the ball over 16 times. Thursday night with Smart running the point for 40 minutes, that number dropped to nine while he himself had just one.
“I always look at his assists and turnovers,” Udoka pointed out when asked about Smart’s efforts on the offensive end. “Kind of dictating everything out there and getting us into things. I’m not the kind of coach that likes to call a play every time down – I leave it in his hands and he usually makes the right decision, understands who to get going and who’s hot, and he did a great job of that tonight…he did a great job driving, making the extra pass, and getting guys easier shots.”
Smart really came on strong in the second half, and helped the Celtics fend off runs by the Heat throughout the third quarter – something the team notably did not do without him in Game 1. Although Smart spent that game on the Celtics’ bench and was visibly active in huddles, having him on the floor in those situations provided the ultimate boost, as he explained after the game.
“Just be who I am. Come out and be that leader,” Smart said about his approach to returning to the floor. “It was a little bit tougher in Game 1 to do that because [I] wasn’t out there…it’s a different type of energy you feel out there when I’m on the court able to bark out the commands and really get into my guys and get them motivated.”
“That’s the beauty of having me on the court,” Smart continued. “To settle us down, to get us what we need to do, and to make plays to my teammates.”
As Smart’s foot continues to get better, look for him to continue to play a central role as the Celtics chase their first Finals appearance in over a decade. The team has a chance to take the lead in the series as the action shifts back to Boston for Game 3 Saturday night. Coverage of that one begins at 8 p.m. ET on 98.5 The Sports Hub and the 98.5 The Sports Hub Celtics Radio Network.