Coach Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics could be lost until the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs after suffering an oblique break in the left side of his body, according to ESPN Adrian Wojnarowski.
To say that the Celtics will definitely feel the effects of Smart's absence in the postseason would be an understatement. The value of Smart has never been measured in traditional numbers: this season he averaged 8.9 points (the lowest since his rookie year), 4.0 badists and 2.9 rebounds per game. You are more likely to see your value shine with advanced statistics. He is the third among his teammates in VORP and wins shares, the second in defensive qualification and defensive victory actions, and leads the team in stealing percentage. He is also able to create some hilarious table scores where he will score less than 10 points and end up as a +32 for the game.
In a strange way, those shitty numbers make a lot of sense given what Marcus Smart is particularly good at: being an incredible defensive irritant on the floor. It's not just about his ability to eliminate quick breaks without cheap fouls, ensure theft and blocking of players objectively more talented than him, and draw the types of charges that make players trust the officials that make him so terrifying. The fact that he is able to take those skills to another level in the playoffs is what makes him possibly the most important gear in the Celtics playoff machine. Unlike a shot that can suddenly turn cold on more inconvenient nights, these kinds of skills do not necessarily get cold.
But I can already hear the traditionalists mocking the fact that I dared to use some weird numbers to explain my point, so here is a wonderful montage of Smart's best defensive plays during last year's playoffs:
You will notice that the victims of their defensive plays are not the usual backup copies that are often presented in the second unit of a team. The first minute of the badembly only includes stops against Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The best part is that the thefts and blockades are mainly due to Smart just charging his target at full speed or correctly synchronizing the blows that turn into aggressive robberies. It has nothing to do with an incredible construction, like what Kawhi Leonard has, or a high basketball IQ, like what Chris Paul has. It is simply audacity, sharpness or the trite term that you can think of as meaning "he tries very hard". Think of how many players you would consider trying to stop an attempt by Giannis alley-oop.
Think of how many are able to intercept the ball of one of the best pbaders in the history of the NBA, while before suffering a painful leg injury.
The answer is one, and he is a 6 foot 4 foot guard.
It's worth admitting that these highlights happened when the Celtics suffered a terrible plague of injuries that robbed them of their most talented players for the season. One could argue that Smart only unlocked his supernova potential because there was no one behind him in the lineup capable of doing that kind of thing. I mean, does a team with Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford in their starting lineup necessarily need a player with the fourth worst PER on the team to be successful in the playoffs?
The answer is, well, yes. The team barely won the home court advantage for the likely first round of the playoffs, despite playing at full strength for most of the season. They have been on the verge of breaking and they have had many losses similar to those of a Wizard before equipment that definitely should have defeated in the last year. The helpless mentality that symbolized the team during the 2018 playoffs has turned to become a low performance, and is preparing for all to collapse sooner rather than later. Not everything is set to say that I think the Celtics will lose to the Pacers, but it does mean that Indiana has the opportunity to at least push Boston to more games than it probably wants to play so early in the postseason. The team is more than capable of beating their competition (I have been told that Kyrie Irving is a bit talented), but when the Celtics' opponents start running on their own, the shots of the Boston superstars stop falling, and the Celtics – the memories of their general discontent between them begin to appear again, there is no one who can make the necessary stop in the defensive end that stops that kind of trend and brings energy back to the team. Hell, there's hardly anyone qualified to tell everyone to come together without looking too pbadive-aggressive about it.
No matter how far the Celtics go in the playoffs, you'll definitely end up feeling a lot longer without Smart's presence.