Marcus Smart removed his warmups and jogged to the scorer’s table. A crackle of electricity surged through the sellout TD Garden crowd.
Moments later, Smart checked into his first game since March 11 and received a standing ovation.
Within 30 seconds, Smart did what Smart does best, diving to corral a loose a ball. The building erupted.
Following two straight losses in Milwaukee, the Celtics needed to regain their footing at home, and nothing aided that quest quite like the return of No. 36.
Smart’s final stats weren’t eye-popping, but there’s no denying his impact on Boston’s 92-87 victory and 3-2 series lead. Smart finished with nine points, five rebounds, and four assists, adding a steal and three blocks for good measure. But more importantly, he brought toughness, aggression and attitude to a series that has gotten chippier by the game, culminating in Terry Rozier and Eric Bledsoe trading soccer-style shoulder charges en route to matching technicals in the third.
“You can look at stat sheets all you want,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “With Marcus it just doesn’t tell the story. It’s his energy, it’s his emotion, it’s little plays that turn out to be game-changing plays.”
He made those all night. He hit the floor seconds after entering the game. Moments later on the other end he dove to keep a loose ball alive for a missed Rozier 3, followed by a missed Al Horford dunk. The crowd, recognizing Smart’s efforts, rose to cheer anyway.
Smart then proceeded to make an and-one layup in traffic, skied to break up a long lob attempt, flopped to draw a charge on Khris Middleton (hey, that’s part of the Smart experience, too.) He muscled the larger Middleton into a miss on a switch. He tossed an alley-oop to Horford in the final seconds of the third quarter that restored Boston’s double-digit lead. He converted a driving up-and-under to beat the shot clock and put the Celtics back up by six midway through the fourth quarter. He even swatted Giannis Antetokounmpo with some help-side defense late in the fourth for one of his three blocks.
He saved his best for last, diving onto a loose ball while being swallowed by three Bucks and finding Horford (22 points, 14 rebounds), from his back, under the hoop for the clinching basket.
“I just made a play, I made a quick play,” Smart said. “I saw (the Bucks) trapping, I saw Al, he was coming hard and you got three guys on you, but I just tried to make sure I got him the ball and it was going to take everything I had. I just made the emphasis that I was going to make a play and get it to Al when I was on the floor and they weren’t taking it from me.”
All in a night’s work for one of the most valuable Celtics, whose status for any playoff action felt remote in March when he underwent surgery to repair a thumb ligament. Instead, he beat what most of his considered his best-case scenario back to the court by two games.
“It means a lot for our team,” Horford said. “I think I said it early in the year that he was kind of like the soul of our team. Everything that he brings, his toughness, unselfishness, hard-nosed player and we fed off his energy tonight. I felt like the crowd fed off of it, we fed off of it and it’s just good to have him back. This has been a genuinely a nice surprise for our group, because I didn’t think he was coming back, I didn’t want to get my hopes up even when I heard it was a possibility. We’re just happy to have him back and he had a huge impact on the game tonight.”
On Tuesday, that meant helping the Celtics to a victory and series lead. Game 6 is Thursday in Milwaukee, and the Celtics will have a chance to close things out. Don’t be surprised if somehow, some way, Smart makes his presence felt in that one, too.
Full article @ Celtics 92, Bucks 87: Marcus Smart returns and just in the nick of time
Source: GreenStreet Blog