BOSTON – Marcus Smart can only do so much.
As they were in the midst of getting outscored 31-10 in the first half, turning a 27-16 lead into a 47-37 hole to the Utah Jazz, it was pretty clear that the Celtics needed a smack in the backside or a dressing down from one of its leaders.
Naturally, that had to be Smart. He, after all, is the player with the longest tenure on this team and the man with the resume and respect in the locker room to carry it out. He did his best by diving all over the court, driving to the basket, getting fouled hard. Everything in his book of tricks was on the table as he tried to keep the Celtics from losing their third straight home game.
His 29 points would not be enough as the Celtics fell flat to the Jazz, 99-94, Friday night at TD Garden, another game where the shorthanded Celtics were without the injured Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward.
Brad Stevens attempted to defend the Celtics effort throughout the game.
“We had a number of good stretches during the game, but it wasn’t good enough to beat them,” Stevens told me. “I was really pleased with how we defended for the most part, with the exception of that, you know, maybe a couple of stretches in the – in the middle of the first half, but other than that, felt pretty good about how we defended. And we held a good offensive team with good players to 99; we just couldn’t score enough to win.”
Safe to say, Smart didn’t see it that way.
“Yeah I disagree, our effort was shit,” Smart told me when I asked him. “We gave them the first couple of punches and after that our effort died down, we picked it up towards the end but it was too late at that time. We definitely couldn’t made shots and they did a great job of coming out and executing all the way through. They really put us on our heels, so we got to move on from it. The game’s over. Give credit to Utah. They came in and did their job and we’ve just got to bounce back on Sunday.”
Smart has never been afraid to get after his teammates and he did so midway through the third quarter when he thought Daniel Theis could’ve easily scored simply by rolling to the basket. Smart was animated in his discussion with Theis.
“Just telling Daniel you deserve to score the ball so if you roll, we’ve got to roll so we can get you the ball so you can get some easy buckets because you work too hard not to get those easy buckets.
“And when Theis is rolling to the rim he brings more intense to our team – factor to our team – where we are more aggressive, because he is there for if that big commits to the guards we can dump it off to him. Or, if they don’t and we can get the ball on the rim and a big tries to contest it even though he is there to clean us up. And like I just told you, you work too hard to not get those easy buckets. I’ll get you some easy buckets and then step out to the three. And you earned it you deserve it, so he agreed.
As always, Smart was firm and direct. Fans can jump all over Smart for his shot selection sometimes but on a night where the Jazz were blitzing Jayson Tatum all over the floor, holding him to 18 points in 32 minutes, it was Smart trying to create offense in any way he saw fit, getting as many people involved in the offense as possible.
“That is a part of this team we are able to talk to guys to talk to each other and keep it real,” Smart added. “We do not sugarcoat anything with each other here, and that is what makes us the team that we are. Tonight, was just something that happened, and we got to move on because Sunday we got another great opponent we got to play against. We got to be ready or the same thing will happen as tonight.”
Maybe Smart was being a little tough on himself, at least that’s what Brad Stevens suggested when I asked him about the intensity his guard showed on several occasions Friday night.
“I thought our guys were pretty involved in it. I thought – when you look at the – they started the game really involved and really focused and flying around we got hit by a couple of punches there in that end of first, early second, and then again in the third, after we made a little run at the start of the third. But, he did a good job and brought – but other guys did too. I thought that Theis was really good all night. And, you know, number of other guys didn’t shoot the way they normally shoot, but they brought good intensity.”
The words from Jayson Tatum might be the ones though that will linger as the Celtics prepare for Oklahoma City Sunday night.
“Utah played good tonight and we’ve just got to play tougher and play harder,” Tatum admitted. “They were the tougher team tonight. The game involves toughness and the tougher team usually wins. We got to set the tone on both ends.”