The point guard tandem of Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier was critical in the Celtics recovery from an 18-point deficit to overcome the Raptors on Wednesday night.
Let’s cut to the chase here. Without an otherworldly explosion by Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas in the fourth quarter, as the “King In The Fourth” piped in 19 points in the final 12 minutes to cap off an incredible 44-point performance, coming back from an 18-point deficit against the Toronto Raptors would not have been within the realm of possibility.
However, Thomas’ gargantuan fourth-quarter display is not the sole reason why the Celtics woke up on Thursday morning to find themselves 1.5 games ahead of the scuffling Raptors for the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Despite the fact that Thomas was the only starter to garner a positive plus-minus rating, Boston’s bench combined for an aggregate +32 on the night. Much of this success can be attributed to the quality performances turned in by backcourt mates Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier.
Although many iterated that Smart had been demoted to the role of sixth man in the absence of shooting guard Avery Bradley once rookie small forward Jaylen Brown replaced him in the starting lineup, this could not be further from the truth. Smart was inserted into the reserve lineup to become the spark plug of the squad Someone who could direct traffic and create offense in a superior manner.
Head coach Brad Stevens’ reliance on his versatility is still measurable given that he performed for 35 minutes against Toronto. Despite shooting just 1-of-5 from three-point range last night, Smart affected the game in a variety of ways, adding five rebounds, five assists, and two steals to his 10-point total.
Smart’s ability to play a considerable role on both ends of the floor has been underlined over the Celtics five-game winning streak. In a 128-98 shellacking of the Orlando Magic on January 27, he dished out 11 dimes while scoring eight points. In Monday’s win over the Detroit Pistons, he passed for eight assists, recorded five rebounds, and scored 13 points on 2-of-3 shooting from deep.
His capability to guard all five positions on the floor while serving as a matchup problem for opposing point guards in the post accentuates his tremendous value to the team. His strict adherence to a hustler’s mentality is evident in all aspects of his performance, making him a key cog on a team just 2.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference. Against the Raptors, Smart featured a plus-minus rating of +8. Over the past three games, the Celtics are a whopping +76 when Smart is on the floor.
Rozier has impressed on the defensive glass this season, sporting a defensive rebounding percentage of 16 percent. He placed this prowess on full display on Wednesday night, grabbing seven rebounds, including three in the fourth quarter, en route to a +5 plus-minus rating. Rozier also chipped in five points on the night, including a critical three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining in the third quarter which sliced Toronto’s lead to just eight entering the final stanza.
Without Rozier’s efforts on the defensive glass, the Celtics would not have come close to matching Toronto’s 56 total rebounds on the night. Although they garnered just 48, Boston limited the Raptors to only eight offensive rebounds after allowing 11 to center Jonas Valanciunas alone in a January 10 loss at Air Canada Center.