Marcus Smart recalls moment he knew this Celtics team would be different

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Marcus Smart opens up on turning point moment for the 2021-22 Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics are off to their first NBA Finals appearance in 12 years, and yet one of the team's most memorable storylines from just this season feels even longer ago than that.

In the aftermath of an ugly loss to the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 1 which dropped the team to 2-5, Marcus Smart made some candid comments about teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown which resulted in a players-only meeting that didn't seem to solve much, at least not right away.

"Every team knows we are trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen and every team is programmed and studies to stop Jayson and Jaylen," Smart said at the time. "I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys try to pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball and that’s something that they’re going to learn."

Celtics-Heat takeaways: C's hold on late to advance to NBA Finals

Fast forward nearly seven months later, the Celtics have eliminated the Miami Heat and are shifting gears to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals later this week.

Asked after Game 7 in a one-on-one interview with NBC Sports Boston's Abby Chin if he could recall a moment during the season when things would be different for this group, Smart was quick to recall the firestorm surrounding his comments.

"After everybody mistook what I said about the Jays, when I was talking about everybody else's scouting report against them and they tried to make it seem like that was for me and tried to stir the pot between us," Smart told Chin. "We just came even closer from that.

"We love each other, we're like brothers. Brothers fight, argue, but it just makes us closer."

Clearly, the Celtics turned things around, but it was hardly right away. The team waddled in mediocrity for another two months, bottoming out at 18-21 in early January after a 108-105 loss to the New York Knicks in which the team blew a 25-point lead.

Since that game, the Celtics have gone 45-16 (including the postseason) and are just four wins away from capturing the franchise's 18th title and first since 2008.

"Everybody counted us out early in the season and everybody jumped back on the bandwagon when we started getting things clicking," Smart said. "Like [Jaylen Brown] said, the energy is about to shift, and he wasn't lying."

Smart, the longest-tenured Celtic having at eight seasons, was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year this season while averaging 12.1 points per game to go along with 5.9 assists, a career-high.