Smart proves why he’s essential to Celtics’ success in Game 5 win originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
BOSTON — Every once in a while, Marcus Smart reminds us that he’s still the Celtics’ emotional leader.
That reminder came just 17 seconds into Game 5 on Thursday night.
On the Miami Heat’s opening possession, Smart stripped a driving Bam Adebayo, dove headfirst to secure the loose ball and shoveled a pass to Jayson Tatum, who went coast-to-coast for a layup to ignite the TD Garden crowd.
Smart’s extra effort set the tone for the Celtics, who jumped out to a 15-point first-quarter lead and never looked back in a 110-97 victory. After trailing 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the C’s have rallied to win two straight and put serious pressure on the Heat entering Game 6 in Miami on Saturday night.
Derrick White (a team-high 24 points) and Tatum (21 points and a season-high 11 assists) both played key roles in Boston’s Game 5 victory. But Smart was the engine that drove the Celtics on both ends.
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“Smart was just a beast tonight,” Jaylen Brown said after the game. “I don’t know what game you guys were watching, but Marcus on both sides of the ball was incredible tonight. It was a great performance from him.”
While the Celtics are used to the 2023 NBA Hustle Award winner bringing the effort, Smart raised his offensive game as well, matching his 2023 playoff high with 24 points on 7 of 12 shooting. He and White combined to hit 10 3-pointers, a deadly recipe for opponents loading up to stop Tatum and Brown.
“You need everybody at some point to come up big, and Smart and D-White were the reason we won tonight,” Tatum said. “Those two guys, their ability to hit shots tonight, spread out the defense, and then make plays on the defensive end — we fed off their energy tonight.”
The Celtics needed an energy boost after an embarrassing Game 3 loss in Miami that created what appeared to be an insurmountable deficit. But after the C’s rallied to win Game 4, Smart made sure to set the tone in Game 5, and his team responded by out-hustling a Heat team built on hustle.
Boston topped Miami in essentially every hustle stat Thursday, from points off turnovers (27 to 19) to second-chance points (17 to 7) to steals (13 to six). That all started with Smart’s aggressive mindset, which the Celtics will need to bring to Miami on Saturday night in what should be their toughest test of the postseason to date.
“He’s just an emotional key for us,” head coach Joe Mazzulla added of Smart. “When he’s locked in and playing both sides of the ball at a different pace, it kind of gives us our identity and our life.”