What Marcus Smart's big plays in Utah highlight for Celtics

Nick Friar
February 27, 2020 - 6:15 am

There have been two constants for the Celtics over the past three games: Jayson Tatum scoring at least 30 points and Jaylen Brown scoring at least 20. One variant in Boston’s 114-103 win over the Jazz was Marcus Smart’s strong offensive showing. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.)

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Smart finished with 17 points on 7-for-17 shooting (3-for-8 from deep) and he had a team-high nine assists. Specifically, the three consecutive possessions where he knocked down a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, followed by an impressive assist to Enes Kanter, played a huge role.

Smart playing well against a tough opponent like the Jazz isn’t something new, though. His shooting inside the arc against the Lakers wasn’t good (1-for-4), but he was efficient from deep (3-for-7, 42.9%) in his 14-point performance. And while he didn’t do as well from long-range against the Clippers (5-for-14, 35.7%), Smart finished 10-for-20 from the floor in his 31-point performance.

“Smart made the one where (the Jazz) got lost in transition and then that allowed him to see one go in. He made some big plays after that,” Brad Stevens told reporters in Utah. “Made some big plays on the other end. Thought he did a good job of directing our defense.”

But where Smart has stepped up against those three tough Western Conference teams, Gordon Hayward has not — specifically when it comes to his shooting.

He had nine assists against the Lakers, but that did not negate him going 5-for-15 from the floor (0-for-5 from deep). Hayward was much better from three against the Clippers (3-for-8) but he was still an overall 6-for-21 from the floor throughout his 20-point performance.

Then came Wednesday’s game, where he went 4-for-12 (1-for-3 from 3-point territory) against his old team.

As much as Utah is a unique environment for Hayward, him not shooting well against the Jazz falls right in line with what he’s done against good teams recently — while he dominated Minnesota (29 points on 12-for-17 shooting) and was even more efficient against the Damian Lillard-less Blazers (12 points on 5-for-7 shooting).

Hayward has had some strong showings against good teams this year, and playing well doesn’t always mean he needs to score a lot. But it can’t be ignored that he’s scoring well against the lesser teams, yet not against the good ones — especially when Smart is stepping up on the offensive end in the games Hayward isn’t.

Part of what makes Hayward impactful as a facilitator is his ability to score. But when the threat to score isn’t there — despite the fact he’s not necessarily drawing an opposing team’s second-best defender, never mind its best — that aspect of Hayward’s game will take a hit, as well.

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