It is fair to say that the Boston Celtics have had a rough start to the season. After hard fought victories against the Hornets and Bulls, the team has dropped three straight to the Cavs, Nuggets, and Wizards. A victory against the Knicks followed, but that game had more do to with their poor performance than the Celtics solving their issues. Even though Boston has been without two of their essential players in Jae Crowder and Al Horford, it does not excuse the poor play they have shown lately. The Celtics are bottom dwellers in the NBA in defensive efficiency and rebounding percentage. Both are stats in which they ranked in the top ten last year. Offensively they have been quite impressive, but poor defense almost always results in losses.
So far Boston seems to have lost their identity. An identity of fighting every minute on every play. An identity that gave them the edge against more talented opponents, and that drew the interest of Horford and Kevin Durant in the offseason. This team needs to regain that edge if they hope to win, and Marcus Smart is the player that embodies the tough style of play that made the Celtics special.
Ever since he came into the league in the 2014-15 season, Smart has played with nothing but intensity and grit. He is usually the first to the floor to get a loose ball, and to take on one of the better scorers of the opposing team. Most importantly, he gets his teammates to play with the same intensity that he does. Last season in the playoffs, Paul Millsap was lighting up the Celtics in game 4 of the first round. Nobody could stop the 6’8 forward until Brad Stevens had the 6’4 Smart pick him up for the closing stretch of the game. Smart held the all star big man to 1-5 shooting as the Celtics ultimately won in overtime.
Smart has always seemed to step up his level of play when the team needs it most. In that same game against the Hawks, Smart had 20 points, 17 of which came in the second half. He hit two clutch threes to keep the Celtics in the game before Isaiah Thomas took over in crunch time.
Getting the team out of their current funk should help Smart move towards the breakout season everyone is hoping he has. Smart has been given an increased role thanks to the departure of Evan Turner. If the third year guard can take his play to the next level, it will transform the expectations of this year’s team.
Right now the Celtics are playing soft. If they are to compete with the Cavaliers and other top flight teams in the east, they need to find their true identity again. Look for Smart to set the tone moving forward. He has been playing some of his best basketball this year, and has always shown a strong leadership ability. Smart should lead by example, as well as hold people accountable if he feels the team is not playing at the right level. The Celtics are by no means Smart’s team, but they need him to get back on track playing winning basketball that Boston fans love to watch.