MILWAUKEE – No matter how bad Marcus Smart may shoot the ball, good things tend to happen when he's on the floor.
The Milwaukee Bucks learned this first-hand on Thursday night as the Celtics pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 96-89 win.
Returning to action after missing the last two games nursing a left ankle sprain, Smart had eight points while missing eight of his 10 shots from the field.
His defense will always be his biggest strength, but Smart's playmaking skills were instrumental in the game's momentum swinging Boston's way near the end of the third quarter.
After a step-back jumper by Kyrie Irving cut Milwaukee's lead to 63-59, it was Smart who found Al Horford in perfect position to drain a 3-pointer. Moments later, Horford hit another one to give Boston the lead.
Horford made big shots, obviously.
But he was quick to praise the play of Smart for setting him up.
"I really have to give all the credit to Marcus Smart on that," Horford said. "He just sees the game in ways that a lot of times we don't even see it. He recognized that my guy was kind of falling asleep on the weak side. He got me open there for back-to-back threes and I felt like that was a big turning point in the game."
Said Smart: "Al's a unique player that we have that can dominate from the inside and the outside. So as a guard, it's our job to get him the ball."
And recognize how to deal with smack-talk.
Both of Smart's made baskets came about because of a Bucks rookie basically egged him on.
"I don't even know his name," said Smart, who added that the rookie told him, "you're trash."
Smart had a message for the young fella.
"I said, ‘listen, this is my first game back. I'm playing on two hurt ankles; still got more playing time than you,''' Smart recalled telling him. "And I hit my first three. He said, ‘Good, that's one.' Then I hit the second one and I pointed at him and said, ‘that's two; two more than you got!'''
Smart added, "It was fun. One day that'll be him doing it."
Here are the other Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston's 96-89 win over Milwaukee which extended Boston's winning streak to three in a row.
Al Horford: We have seen Horford deliver defensively and at times, provide a nice offensive punch. But on Thursday, he was absolutely outstanding at both ends of the floor and was far and away the best performer on the court. Horford finished with a near double-double of 27 points and eight rebounds in addition to dishing out four assists.
Kyrie Irving: Irving came to the rescue of Boston's offense several times when it bogged down on Thursday, the kind of offensive juice the Celtics need from their best one-on-one scorer. He finished with 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting along with seven assists and just two turnovers.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Horford defended Antetokounmpo better than anyone has all season. But the Greek Freak still put up big numbers, a reminder as to why even in defeat he's one of the best in the game now. He finished with a double-double of 28 points and 10 rebounds along with dishing out seven assists.
Aron Baynes: Whether he's coming off the bench or starting, by the end of the night he will make his presence known. Baynes' plus/minus for the game was a team-best +8. In addition, he scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but maybe his most memorable play of the night was drawing a blocking foul against Giannis Antetokounmpo that prevented the Greek Freak from a powerful dunk. He stayed on the floor for a few seconds longer than usual, only to bounce back up and get ready for the next play.
Malcolm Brogdon: The league's reigning Rookie of the Year was one of the few scoring options the Bucks could turn to in the second half who actually produced at a fairly consistent clip. He would finish with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists along with a blocked shot.
Thon Maker: He didn't play a ton of minutes, and the reason was obvious. He was easily the most ineffective starter for the Bucks, missing three of his four shot attempts. But more than his lack of scoring, the Bucks just weren't very good when he was on the floor which was validated when you see that he had a plus/minus of -11 which was worse than any other Bucks player on Thursday. Brad Stevens changed up his starting lineup for matchup purposes. The Bucks might think about doing the same with Maker who does not match up well with the Celtics' big men.