Boston Celtics: The impact of Marcus Smart’s absence

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart was concluding an All-Defensive team worthy season after going down with an oblique injury just two games before the playoffs. The team will struggle to replace his two-way productivity.

With Marcus Smart out for what looks like at least the first two rounds of the postseason, the Boston Celtics will struggle to find that two-way spark he’s provided all season.

This has been far and away the best season of Smart’s five-year career, shattering his previous shooting numbers and remaining one of the league’s finest defensive guards. Statistically, this was Smart’s second-worst scoring season, but with added weapons like a full season of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, not to mention more shots for Jayson Tatum, this is understandable for a pass-first guard.

While putting up big scoring numbers was not, and never has been Smart’s forte, his surprising efficiency has been a huge boost and steadying force in Boston’s horrifically inconsistent offense.

Shooting 42.2 percent from the field, including 36.4 percent from downtown (higher than the league average 35.5 percent!) and shockingly high finishing rate inside, Smart’s surprise offensive output was the perfect complement to the Celtics’ dominant players on that side of the ball.

While Kyrie Irving is certainly the type of guard that fits with everyone in theory on offense, he and Smart really are a perfect match. Smart is now a reliable outside threat for Irving, or Al Horford, or any of the Celtics’ playmakers to kick out too, and was also the team’s third-best passer behind Irving and Horford, at 4.0 assists per game.

After going down with a torn oblique, which projects to hold Smart out until the conference finals if the team can fight its way there, the Boston Celtics will have to look at two players to replace all the things Smart can do on the court: Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

Both slate in at roughly the same role as Smart in Brad Stevens’ position-less brand of basketball, and will play a lot of minutes off of Kyrie Irving as the primary ball-handler. Both have the capacity to be effective defenders and can contribute on offense in their own ways, and they’ll have to step up big to replace Smart’s impact.

Rozier will play Smart’s role as a secondary playmaker, playing off-ball when alongside Kyrie Irving and actively looking to create for Boston’s scorers when on-ball. He can’t replace Smart’s defensive brilliance, but he does have the athleticism to be a pest against like-sized guards.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Jaylen Brown does have the right mix of physicality, foot speed and instincts to be nearly as effective as Smart on one-on-one situations, guarding anyone 1-4, but has trouble staying alert off-ball. He can be a better all-around scorer, but Boston will miss Smart’s added playmaking when Brown is slotted in his spot.

With the Boston Celtics’ first playoff series against the Indiana Pacers locked in, Smart, while valuable as the team’s heart and sole, is replaceable. With Victor Oladipo out, the Pacers’ main scoring options from their guards are Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Aaron Holliday. While talented players in their own right, Irving, Brown and Rozier should be able to hold their own defensively against this bunch.

The main outside scoring threat on Indiana is forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who would surely receive a lot of attention from Smart, will get matchups against Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and Brown now.

The next round, should the Celtics advance, is where Smart’s absence will be far more noticeable. If the Milwaukee Bucks are able to advance past the Detroit Pistons, then all hands on deck will be necessary to deal with Giannis Antetokounmpo and company.

While it will surely be mostly Morris, Tatum and Horford taking the brunt of the Greek Freak duty, Brad Stevens has in the past been known to throw Marcus Smart at elite players of all sizes to frustrate them for a string of plays. Without that, the Celtics will have to rely on traditional defensive matchups if they hope to keep Antetokounmpo from breaking the series open.

What makes Milwaukee so dangerous is Giannis’ passing ability, how he can penetrate the defense and dish out to his many spot-up shooters. With guys running around all over the floor and launching from deep at will, the Celtics will sorely miss Smart’s ability to fight through screens to close out on defenders.

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Though Marcus Smart is such an integral part of this team with both his on-court play and leadership, the Boston Celtics have the personnel to replace his production. Should they grind out the next two rounds and emerge victorious, Smart’s boost in the conference finals could push this team back to where the preseason predictions had them: top dogs in the East.