Marcus Smart leads the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Miami Heat

Boston Celtics defender Marcus Smart had an open strip for a simple quick break basket. He then aimlessly shifted the ball behind his back and flew to Leiap.

A minute later, he had the ball again and struck the acrobatic circus from behind the board. He also completed the folly.

It was Marcus Smart experience briefly on Thursday night: sometimes ugly, sometimes entertaining, always influential. In the 2nd game of the Eastern Conference Finals, Smart scored 24 points, 9 rebounds and 12 assists in a game in which the Celtics thoroughly dominated, 127-102, and tied the best series in the top seven. He had only one turnover in one of the best playoffs of his career.

A significant change continues for the 28-year-old smart this season: the ugly is much less. He has emerged as a solid, trusted defender who can handle Boston’s attack more competently, even as his efforts at the other end of the floor – he was named the NBA’s Most Defensive Player of the Year – receive the most attention.

Smart missed the first game of the series on Tuesday due to a leg sprain and his absence was obvious. The Celtics disbanded in the third quarter when Smart Talent could calm down the attack and strengthen the defense.

Upon opening on Thursday, Smart had an impact on the game. The Celtics scored the first difficult pass from smart to defender Jalen Brown. Smart immediately followed this before it looked like an alley leading to the center of Robert William III.

However, in the first half, Smart scored a terrific 2-11 from the field. For most players this means they had a bad game. But Smart was one of the best players on the court, with his seven assists and zero rebounds. The Celtics led the team by 25 points, beating the Heat by 26 points on the smart floor.

“I’m not the type of coach who wants to call every game,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka. “I leave it to him and he usually makes the right decision. ”

Smart did not have the same confidence in his early career. During the previous seven years of his trip to the NBA, along with Boston, Smart was known primarily as a defensive player who tended to throw bad shots early in the hour and make mindless passes. He was also, for the most part, a bad shooter from the 3-point range. Smart had other attributes that made him a fan favorite, though, for example, a willingness to constantly dive to the floor for loose balls.

This year, despite offensive restrictions, Smart was given the Celtics attack key for the first time. It was a risky decision. Smart has never been a starting defender throughout the season. He was never a full-time starter until the 2020-21 season. He played behind defenders such as Kemba Walker and Aisaia Thomas, two former all-stars who made their living by bombing. But Walker’s injuries last year allowed Smart to taste the main defender.

Smart initially struggled to adjust to the new role, as did the rest of the Celtics. In his first 50 games this season, Smart averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 assists. Boston crime was often stuck in the mud. After losing to the Chicago Bulls in November, Smart sparked outrage from teammates when he publicly criticized the team’s two best players, Brown and Jason Tatum, for conceding too much of the ball. Smart unbridled play helped Boston start 25-25.

But then came the turnaround. In his last 21 games for the regular season, he averaged 13.2 points and 7.1 assists per game with 43.2 percent shooting. He also turned out to be a more reliable shooter. While there were other factors, Smart’s improvement coincided with the Celtics’ rise to the playoffs near the NBA Finals contender. Tetum said Thursday that Smart had given the Celtics “another guy who can handle the ball under pressure and put us in the position we need to be.”

His strong play moved him to the playoffs. In the first round against the Nets, Smart averaged 16.5 points and 7 assists in Boston’s 4-game series. In the second round against the Milwaukee Bucks, Smart averaged 14 points and 5.7 assists, while throwing 39.4 percent beyond the 3-point line.

“As a defender, I put a lot of pressure on our boys not to try to force them to be who they are,” Smart said after Thursday’s game.

All this while Smart was often tasked with protecting the best players in the opposition. In the first round they were Kevin Durant and Kairy Irving. He followed this up in the second round with a switch between Gianni Antetokumpo and Jru Holliday. Smart vs. Miami tried to slow down Jimmy Butler on Thursday night.

Smart was increasingly defending the Celtics with both his attack and defense. When the Heat spent the third quarter in Game 2, Smart took it upon himself to stop it. In addition to him Shot on a circus boardSmart struck a few 3s to stop the bleeding. He scored 11 points in the quarter, including the highlight of the match. The Heat cut the lead to 17 and Miami fans suddenly re-engaged. Smart lifted the ball high, grabbing the crossover dribbling between his legs, causing Heath forward Max Strauss to step back on the floor. When he got to his feet, Smart quietly stepped forward and made a jumper in the penalty area.

This was the new Marcus Smart Experience. Uninterrupted under pressure. Reliable. And still entertaining.

“That’s why I was invited here and just wait my turn,” Smart said. “And I’m happy to be in this situation and I have the opportunity to come out and show what I can do. And I think everyone in the organization – in the world – has seen what I can do in this guard position.

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