Blakely: Smart can't let shooting woes affect defense


BOSTON – This isn’t the first time Marcus Smart has gone through a tough stretch when it comes to shooting the ball, and it certainly won’t be the last.

The concern whenever he or any player struggles at one end of the floor, is its impact on their overall play.

And that is what makes Smart’s shooting slump potentially problematic.

He’s still one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA and very much a difference-maker for Boston, but his impact on the defensive side of the ball hasn’t been at that elite level we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him that typically lasts from the opening tip-off to the final horn.

And while you have to certainly tip your hat to some of the players he has had to defend who have made some really tough shots, it’s clear that the shooting woes he is currently experiencing are at times impacting what he does – and doesn’t do – defensively.

There was a sequence in the fourth quarter on Monday when Smart missed a 3-pointer in front of the Magic bench and thought he was fouled on the play. In the brief two or three seconds he spent complaining about the call, Orlando advanced the ball and got a lay-up that cut Boston’s lead to 98-92 with more than four minutes to play.

At the next stoppage of play, Evan Turner was brought back in to replace Smart.

“Tonight wasn’t his night,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said afterwards. “You have to continue to shoot the good ones. You have to continue to shoot the right ones. When you shoot the right ones it allows you to rebound because you’re in position.”

One of the knocks on Smart since he has been a Celtic has been his lack of driving the ball to the basket. But in the win over Orlando, many of his misses came on drives to the rim that seemed to create contact around the basket but no whistles were blown.

“He had a couple where he had nice drives off of movement,” Stevens said.

But those shots, like most of his jumpers, were off the mark.

Smart’s shooting has been slightly down from his rookie season, even before his current shooting funk.

This season he has shot just 34.7 percent from the field and 25.8 percent on 3s. In Boston’s last five games, he’s down to 27.8 percent from the field and 16.0 percent on 3s.

In fact, Smart’s numbers offensively are down in just about every category in the last five games.

And his defense?

Yeah, that’s taken a bit of hit lately as well.

Now keep in mind that the 6-foot-4 Smart has had to play out of position for longer stretches than usual because of Jae Crowder’s high ankle sprain injury which has sidelined him for Boston’s last five games.

Smart got the start for the first couple of those games at small forward, but has since been replaced by Turner.

The impact of having to defend players with greater length (Indiana’s Paul George and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant immediately come to mind) can be seen to some degree in the significant swing in Smart’s defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) this season (99.6) compared to what it has been in the last five games (107.3).

Regardless of how poorly Smart has shot the ball, the one thing he has to continue doing is finding ways to impact winning. More often than not, he does that on nights when his shot isn’t falling.

Smart has had two games in his career where he shot 1-for-11 from the field, and the Celtics came away with the victory in both.

But let’s not get it twisted.

For Boston to be at its best and for Smart to be one of the catalysts to making that happen, he has to start making shots.

“He’s going to have to make the right play and continue to believe,” Stevens said. “We believe in him.”

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