NBA

Marcus Smart changes tone for Boston Celtics while Golden State Warriors do what they need to in first round

Jay Asser 19:23 25/04/2018
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Marcus Smart delivers a pass from his back after a fight for the loose ball.

Marcus Smart’s return was anything but understated as the presence of the Boston Celtics’ engine of chaos made all the difference for one night.

In Smart, who returned from a thumb injury that had sidelined him for a month-and-a-half, Boston got back a significant piece of their identity at just the right time to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 92-87 in a pivotal Game 5.

His nine points on 2-of-7 shooting, coupled with five turnovers, suggest the guard was nothing but a bystander in the victory.

On the contrary, the final stats do little to tell the full story of how Smart’s 25 minutes off the bench were critical to the Celtics holding serve at home and moving to within a win of advancing.

From the moment he stepped on the floor to the final buzzer, Smart was at his typical best, flying around the court on defence while providing much-needed playmaking on the other end.

His anticipation of where opposing offences are going to be allows him to diagnose and shut down plays, which he did on multiple occasions in Game 5 when he nabbed one steal and blocked three shots.

Boston certainly missed that element and it may not be a total coincidence the Bucks had their worst offensive night of the series in Smart’s return, but his playmaking was arguably even more important.

Terry Rozier has had his moments as the starting point guard, but no-one on the Celtics’ roster outside of Kyrie Irving offers the level of passing Smart does.

When he wasn’t directly setting up Al Horford on the pick-and-roll, Smart was collecting hockey assists with the pass to set up the pass that led to a score.

No play symbolised the Marcus Smart experience better than Boston’s final field goal of the night, which came when the guard was sent sprawling to the floor with the ball, only to rip it away from multiple Bucks pursuers and deliver a pass from his back to an open Horford at the basket.

“I think I said it early in the year that he was kind of like the soul of our team,” Horford said of Smart. “Just everything that he brings – his toughness, unselfishness, just a hard-nosed player and we fed off his energy tonight. I felt like the crowd fed off of it, we fed off if it, and it’s just good to have him back.”

Warriors tune up

It may have been the least compelling series of the first round, but for the Golden State Warriors, their gentleman’s sweep of the San Antonio Spurs is just what they needed.

While Stephen Curry continued to recover from a knee injury that should see him return in the second round, Golden State received enough of a test to wake them up for what’s to come.

Without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs aren’t brimming with talent, but they’re still a well-oiled machine for the most part, functioning on cohesion and a system. They rarely beat themselves and will usually make opponents pay for mental lapses – something the Warriors had too much of to close out the regular season.

That wasn’t so much the case in the first round series as Golden State proved they’re ready to start taking their competition seriously again.

They may not have fully played up to their talent level – or at least sustained it for the entire series – but the Warriors don’t have to concern themselves too much with how they looked because Curry’s return should change the entire equation.

Golden State are still on path to raise another banner.

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