Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown scored enough all season to get the Celtics into the NBA Finals. But Marcus Smart was full of fight on both ends Wednesday night in Game 3, getting them one step closer to winning the title.
After the Celtics had been smacked in the mouth by he Warriors and Draymond Green in Game 2, Smart predictably led their counterpunch at TD Garden in Boston. He led the way with his grit, physicality and toughness in a 116-100 win.
“Just to do it. We had to,” Smart said. “Game 2, they brought the heat to us. For us, that left a bad taste in our mouth because what we hang our hat on is effort on the defensive end and being a physical team. It definitely woke us up a little bit.
“We just wanted to come out, and if we were going to come out here and play, the last thing when we left that court we didn’t want to say we weren’t physical enough. It worked out for us.”
Smart and Al Horford had been all but invisible in Game 2, held to just four points combined. But Smart bounced back in Game 3 and provided Boston a much-needed third scoring option. Smart had 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and provided the mental toughness the Celtics needed to take a 2-1 lead.
Smart joined Tatum (26 points, six rebounds, nine assists) and Brown (27 points, nine rebounds, five assists) as the first trio with at least 20 points, five boards and five dimes in the NBA Finals since June 10, 1984, when the Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper did it against the Celtics.
Boston ended up winning that series. Now Smart’s performance brought the Celtics a step closer to taking this one, and breaking a tie with the Lakers with title No. 18.
“Jaylen and Jayson, they’re going to get everybody’s best two defenders. Usually most teams put their not-the-best defenders on me, and it’s my job as the point guard to really just relieve pressure for those guys,” Smart said. “They’re going to be hounded 24/7 and their job is already hard, so there’s no need to make it harder by putting the ball in their hand and just pulling them out.”
Boston made it look easy to start, getting 17 first-quarter points from Brown and building an 18-point cushion in the second quarter.
But the Warriors erased that lead altogether, and the Celtics fell behind 83-82 on a Stephen Curry 3-pointer with 3:45 left in the third quarter. Smart checked back in off the bench 26 seconds later — and his 11 points and grit helped Boston close on a 34-17 run.
Smart’s corner 3 off a Tatum feed started the run and put Boston back up for good.
“For me, it was just be poised. Just stay calm. We’ve been here before. They’re a really good team, they’re going to go on runs. But so are we. We just have to bolt down and go on our run,” Smart said. “If I didn’t stay as poised and calm … it would’ve been a snowball effect for us. I was just trying to control that aspect of the game.”
Smart controlled not just much of the playmaking duties, but the smallest player on the floor for Boston added physicality for a team that bullied Golden State 47-31 on the glass and 52-26 in the paint.
Midway through the fourth quarter, there was Smart, fighting through a screen and conceding a foul, but keeping the Warriors from getting a wide-open look. He made Golden State take the ball out, and the Celtics’ set half-court defense forced a miss.
And with Boston leading 110-98 with 4:07 left, he dove on the parquet floor to wrest a loose ball away from a scrum that looked more fitting for rugby. Curry, who led all scorers with 31 points, came away from it limping, a development that bears watching for Golden State — and an example of the physical nature of the night.
“Yeah, for sure [it set the tone],” Boston’s Robert Williams III said. “I feel like that’s anybody we see putting the effort, putting the emphasis on what they’re doing. We’re pretty good at following each other’s energy.”