Marcus Smart is the first to admit that he hasn’t played to his standards throughout the 2022-23 season. But the arrival of the postseason offers a refresh button and he’s eager to slam it as the Celtics launch into their playoff journey.
Smart shined during Boston’s trek to the 2022 Finals. Finally installed as the clear-cut point guard, he thrived as the team’s offensive quarterback. He ended a quarter-decade drought for guards by winning the Defensive Player of the Year award last season.
The 2022-23 season has been more of a roller coaster. Smart has battled injuries and off-the-court headaches that have hindered his play. Smart’s playmaking dipped in the second half of the season and his defense wasn’t nearly as consistent as it was a year ago.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Boston sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
"It's a little bit of everything. Injuries, life," Smart says while shaking his head. "Dealing with a lot stuff this year. I've dealt with my house flooding, after I just bought it, after [his December engagement]. I've been dealing with so much, personally, that it's just like a long 82-game season. Sometimes the human factor comes in. But we are professionals and we get paid to do that. So, for me, that's all out the window.
"No excuses. I have to be better. And understanding that, going into this postseason, I plan to get back to me.”
Smart’s defense will be important throughout the playoffs, and it starts with him being tasked with containing Atlanta’s Trae Young. The two had a notable dust-up during Boston’s final visit to the Hawks in March after Young kicked Smart below the belt on a drive to the basket. But Smart is adamant that the sequence doesn’t add any incentive to him trying to limit Young’s output.
"That's been gone. Trae’s a really good player and he's doing a really good job with that team and we understand that," said Smart. "So, for me, as a defensive guy, being able to go up against one of the better scorers in this league is only gonna continue to help me get better."
Smart’s defensive intensity waned at times this season. Ankle injuries that he’s seemingly navigated since last year’s Finals haven't helped matters. He sat out the final three games of the year after a neck issue that made sleeping difficult in recent weeks. But Smart doesn’t want to lean on excuses. He can’t go back and fix some of those defensive lapses but he can impact winning at the highest level in the postseason.
Smart averaged a career-best 6.3 assists per game this season and was a maestro conducting an offensive orchestra at the start of the season. But after averaging 7.1 assists per game before the All-Star break, that number dipped to 4.3 the rest of the season. The Celtics need Smart back in QB mode to be the best version of themselves.
This season, Boston was 15-4 whenever Smart posted eight-plus assists. They were 31-6 when he took 11 shots or fewer.
But the key for Smart is his defense. The Celtics had the second-best defensive rating in the NBA this season but haven’t dominated that end like they did throughout much of last season. Smart needs to get the Celtics back to being impactful at the point of attack. A healthy Robert Williams III could give the guards on this team even more freedom to crank up the defensive intensity.
Boston needs Smart’s defensive versatility this postseason. It starts with Young, but future rounds could see Smart asked to help on the likes of MVP frontrunners like Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Smart is ready for the challenge. He’s ready to get back to himself. It could be one of the keys to the Celtics getting back to the Finals.