Celtics miss more than Marcus Smart's play defensively


BOSTON -- There was no getting around the reality that once the playoffs arrived for the Boston Celtics minus Marcus Smart, Kyrie Irving’s plate of responsibilities would get a little more full. 

But not quite how most of us envisioned. 

As much as Boston feeds off of what Smart does defensively, it is his playmaking and the domino effect that it has on the Celtics’ offense, that they truly miss. 

Because the defense seems to be in good shape following Boston’s 84-74 Game 1 win over Indiana. 

And just like no one player can bring what Smart does to the table defensively, the same holds true for replacing his value to the Celtics in terms of making plays offensively for others. 

That responsibility, as well as the usual lion’s share of the scoring load offensively, has fallen into the lap of Kyrie Irving. 

Irving acknowledged that the Celtics will need to make some adjustments offensively in order to improve upon their Game 1 shooting performance. 

“We just get used to the spacing out there, understanding where we get the most efficiency on the court from each other, the plays; defensively being in the right spots, trusting one another,” said Irving, who had a game-high seven assists in Game 1. “The starting lineup is a change, but we can adapt. We’re good enough.”

And while Irving speaks of the team as a whole having to make adjustments without Smart, he is probably impacted more than anyone else in not having Smart around. 

Without Smart, Irving will be counted on to elevate his overall play defensively. 

He did just that in Game 1, finishing with a defensive rating of 74.2, which was tops among all guards for both Boston and Indiana who played at least 20 minutes. 

But not having Smart around to handle some of the play-making duties? That’s where his absence — at least for Irving — is felt the most. 

“I miss him,” Irving said. “He makes my job a lot easier; just because I don’t have to dribble the ball as much or create as much. You have a second lead guard that can go out there and just really make decisions; make good decisions for our team.”

When Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was contemplating who to start in Smart’s absence, replacing him with another playmaker was an option considered. 

Ultimately Stevens went with Jaylen Brown, who isn’t much of a playmaker but does provide Boston with the kind of scoring potential and defensive versatility they want from that position. 

Brown’s job was to be as much of a pest as he could in defending Bojan Bogdanovic, who finished the game with 12 points — but only two of those points were scored on Brown, who defended him for a team-high 31 possessions.

And while having Brown start in place of Smart certainly worked out well for Boston defensively, Stevens remains non-committal as to whether he will go with the same starting lineup tonight. 

“We re-evaluate everything, everyday,” Stevens said. “I don’t want to over-react. I didn’t think we played great at the start of either half but I didn’t think we were bad. I thought we guarded; we tried to do the right things. I thought we had some offensive possessions that could have been better; Indiana had a lot to do with that.”

Still, Stevens acknowledges that not having Smart does impact the team’s offense.

“It really puts Kyrie at the point almost the whole time,” Stevens said. “You might play Al (Horford) there a little bit, you might play one of the wings a possession or two. But mostly, Kyrie will have the ball. With Marcus, you could really play Kyrie off the ball and he could be a cutter and those types of things. So that limits you a little bit.”

Look for the Celtics to play more lineups tonight that include Irving playing with his backup Terry Rozier or Gordon Hayward, who can also help with the playmaking duties. 

“We got a lot of talented guys on this team,” Smart said on Tuesday, his first public comments since suffering the oblique tear against the Orlando Magic on April 7. “This is an opportunity for those guys to step up and prove themselves. Unfortunately, it’s at my expense but that’s why you have four other guys out there and you have a bench so that if somebody goes down, you gotta step up.” 

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