In the Celtics' first game back from the All-Star break, a 23-point dismantling of the Brooklyn Nets, Marcus Smart registered 15 points on 5/6 shooting, all from beyond the arc, and he dished out six assists and swiped two steals, earning a plus-minus rating of plus-23.
Smart's having the best season of his career, and the reason for it is the job he's doing as Boston's floor general. He's done an excellent job jump-starting Ime Udoka's offense by consistently pushing the pace, getting the Celtics organized, and making sure they have proper spacing. And whether he's coming off a screen or relying on his strength, explosiveness, and determination, Smart is consistently charging to the paint, creating favorable opportunities for his teammates.
In the play below from the win over Brooklyn on Thursday, Andre Drummond tries to force his way to the basket, but Al Horford and Jaylen Brown wedge him into a tight corridor, Brown deflects his attempt to kick the ball out to Bruce Brown, and Smart comes away with the steal. He quickly pushes the pace, keeping his head up to assess the situation. Smart sees Horford sprinting to the rim, and he signals with his left hand for Brown to clear out. Brown walls off Patty Mills, and Smart hits Horford in stride for a dunk.
The next play is in a half-court set, and it illustrates Smart's ability to collapse the defense and facilitate for his teammates no matter his location.
Rather than forcing the issue against James Johnson and Drummond, Brown kicks the ball out to Horford, who swings the ball to Smart, who slid up from the left corner.
After failing to pick off Horford's pass, Bruce Brown is shading Smart, trying to prevent him from going middle. But when Smart swings the ball baseline, Brown mirrors him, and he narrows his stance, bringing his left foot in line with Smart's right and bending his left leg inward. Smart sees that shift in positioning and balance, and he attacks middle, which draws Drummond's attention, getting Brooklyn's big man to rotate towards him and away from Robert Williams. Not one to give away his intentions, Smart never stares down the Timelord, going so far as to throw him a no-look alley-oop.
Smart's final assist of the game was again fueled by Boston converting a stop on defense into points at the other end. He pushes the pace when he gets the outlet pass from Horford, knows the entire time he's going to Grant Williams, but holds Kessler Edwards' attention before delivering a no-look bounce pass to get Williams a layup.
Smart's scoring is a bonus, but the number of points those not named Tatum and Brown put on the board will play a significant role in how far the Celtics go in the playoffs. One doesn't want to make too big of a deal of Smart having a hot shooting night against a short-handed Nets team, but he's had games of that nature in the postseason, and shots like the one below is the type of look he'll get in the playoffs.
In the play below, Smart screens for Brown to get him an opportunity at the basket against a smaller defender in Patty Mills. But with Mills fronting Brown, Horford swings the ball to Tatum, who goes under a screen from Robert Williams. With Drummond lifting up to dissuade Tatum from driving, he sends the ball into Williams, who sees Curry next to him and quickly moves the ball to Smart for an in-rhythm three from the right wing.
There was also this instance of the Celtics drawing a play to get Smart a three by having him swing the ball to Robert Williams, then coming off a flare screen from Derrick White for a shot from 26-feet out on the left wing.
And, of course, the Celtics know they can count on Smart to provide All-NBA caliber defense every time he takes the court. On Thursday, the two-time All-Defensive First Team member led Boston with three deflections, and he came away with two steals, including this strip of LaMarcus Aldridge on the low block.