Our five favorite moments from Marcus Smart's Celtics tenure originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
When you think of Marcus Smart’s time in Boston, his defensive efforts blend into one majestic tapestry: all of those fearless dives to the floor, the bone-rattling charge takes, the midcourt pickpockets and the "stretch 6" defensive assignments. Smart endeared himself here not just with the way he played but his insatiable desire to win at any cost.
It simply never felt like you were out of a game as long as Smart was on the floor.
Smart returns to Boston for the first time as a visitor on Sunday evening. Acquired by the Grizzlies in a three-team swap that delivered Kristaps Porzingis to Boston, Smart was pegged to be a steadying veteran for the Grizzlies. Instead, injuries have ravaged Memphis this season.
Smart’s own hand injury will prevent him from the chance to create his normal on-court chaos in Boston, but maybe that’s a good thing. Celtics fans get to celebrate Smart, work through the emotions, and not have to see him defend any of his old teammates until maybe 2025.
Smart’s shot selection could sometimes drive fans crazy but his grit was undeniable. Boston made the playoffs every single season he was on the roster and Smart’s winning plays were important to some of the deepest treks. It would be easy to downplay his efforts here, particularly with Boston’s success this year and how vital Porzingis has made himself in a short time, but Smart’s impact is indelible.
The lasting visual is Jayson Tatum, arms slung around both Smart and Jaylen Brown, as the trio celebrated finally getting over the hump and winning the Eastern Conference after a Game 7 triumph in Miami in 2022.
Smart’s return Sunday got us thinking about our favorite Smart moments from throughout his time in Boston. On this week’s Celtics Talk podcast, we reflected on Smart’s tenture, especially what he meant off the court.
Now, let’s run through a quick countdown of our five favorite on-court memories from Smart’s time in green:
5. Series-sealing block against Norm Powell
The Celtics were clinging to a 2-point lead with under a minute to play in Game 7 of a 2020 Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Toronto Raptors inside the bubble. Norm Powell made a mad dash in transition off a Celtics miss and caught Smart backpedaling.
Powell went up with some serious steam but Smart somehow managed to lunge from behind and swat the layup with his left hand. The Celtics salted away the win from there and advanced to the East finals against the Miami Heat.
4. Klaw Machine: Creating a Kawhi turnover on pure grit
Hounding Leonard 10 feet above the 3-point arc, Smart swatted a little pitch-back attempt. As the ball bounced towards the sideline, Smart muscled his way through Leonard and, while falling out of bounds, somehow managed to flick the loose ball off Leonard’s shoes so that Boston gained possession.
The best part of the sequence was Smart pointing toward Leonard while still sliding towards courtside broadcast table, to ensure the referees noticed the ball went off the Clippers forward.
3. Passing of the defensive torch
Rewind to December of 2014, long before Smart ever started dyeing his hair and while he was still a rookie trying to show the rest of the league the grit he played with.
When Brooklyn’s Jarrett Jack lost control of the ball after a failed drive attempt, Smart won the race to the floor and corralled the ball. Kevin Garnett, having been dealt to the Nets 16 months earlier, rushed over to try to rip the ball away but Smart was able to push it ahead for an easy Jeff Green breakway dunk.
Garnett fell on top of Smart trying to grab the ball and the two players exchanged appreciative daps after the sequence. It felt like a bit of passing of the torch with Garnett seemingly acknowledging how Smart played with the sort of hustle that Garnett made his calling card in Boston.
2. Don’t walk the dog near Smart
Nets guard Donald Sloan was trying to preserve time as the ball rolled haphazardly next to him near midcourt in January 2016. Smart, who would later recall how John Wall had lunged for a rolling ball a year earlier, elected to launch himself toward the rolling inbound pass.
Sloan scrambled to try to tie up Smart, who immediately wrapped his arms around the ball, and referees bailed out Sloan by calling a jump ball.
Whether Smart was lunging at rolling balls, or straight up pickpocketing opponents, he was a certified midcourt menace, capable of thievery if an opponent wasn’t laser focused. It wouldn’t be the last Cobra Strike.
The quintessential Smart winning play moment came in December 2017 during a visit from the Houston Rockets.
With Boston down three and under 10 seconds to play, Smart fed Jayson Tatum for a dunk. With Tatum immediately hounding the inbounder, Smart attached himself to the hip of James Harden and drew an offensive foul call for eating a push off with 7.3 seconds to play.
Al Horford muscled his way to the basket for the go-ahead bucket with 3.7 seconds to go. An agitated Harden bull-rushed Smart trying to create separation on the ensuing inbounds. Instead, Smart snapped backwards and fell to the parquet, drawing a second offensive foul and allowing the Celtics to escape with a one-point win.