LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Series between the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics, Raptors guard Norman Powell had the ball on the fast break against Celtics guard Marquee Smart with less than a minute to go in the double. Overtime and converted a-1 layout helped to seal a dramatic Toronto victory to keep the series alive.
With less than a minute to go in Game 7 on Friday night, the same scenario presented itself. This time, however, Smart ensured that there would be a different outcome.
“As soon as Norman caught the ball, immediately I remembered the last game,” Smart said later.
“In my mind I was just telling myself, ‘He has to sink. I’m not going to do any dishonesty. I’m just going to meet him and see who wins that fight.”
It turns out that Smart’s defense, as he often does, won this time. And, as a result, the Celtics won 92–87 and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The smart block with 58.2 seconds left on Pavel – reminiscent of a chasedown block by LeBron James against Andre Igodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals – prevented Toronto from their best opportunity to tie the score in the final moments. The Celtics entered the conference finals for the third time in four years.
After a close call from the Raptors in Games 3 and 6, Smart proved to be the block moment that ultimately sent the defending champion home from the NBA bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort.
“I bet myself 110% of the time,” Smart said. “I am a team-all-defense for a reason, and I believe in him with all sincerity.”
Smart often draws attention behind his high-profile teammates in Boston, and did so in Game 7. Jason Tatum (29 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists) became the second-youngest player in NBA history to have 25 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in a game 7 – behind only his idol Kobe Bryant. dropping off. Jaylen Brown had 21 points, and Kemba Walker struggled overall, but included a few key plays in the fourth, with 7.9 seconds left.
But ask anyone around the Celtics, and they’ll be quick to say it’s smart – with their toughness, their defense, and their nonstop hustle – which is the heart and soul of this team. And it was fitting that his game was the one that helped seal Boston’s victory, both in this game and in this series.
“That block was so special,” Walker said. “It was unrealistic. That’s why he’s a first team all-defense. He shows it night in and night out. He made so many big plays tonight. A lot of things that he does just go unnoticed. .
“But that kid, he’s special, man. He’s on a different level at that end of the basketball court.”
Smart played a huge role in the clash of rappers star Pascal Saykam in the series. He made several stops on Powell in the fourth quarter before his highlight block. And, if it wasn’t for Toronto’s late return in Game 6, Smart’s first playoff triple-double in that game would have led Boston to a game in the East Finals against the Miami Heat in a hurry.
Still, the Celtics would be happy to get there, after surviving this best of a series against the Raptors, which gave Boston absolutely everything that would have been ruled out for the vast majority of the series by the team’s own entry Can handle in spite of.
“Of course,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens when asked if Boston performed better as a result of playing this series against Toronto. “I mean, I’ve coached in a lot of playoff games now, a lot of playoff series and a lot of NAA tournament games. I’d say we saw more defense and more stuff and a lot more … well when something worked out , It did not work in the next drama. This is a credit to him.
“We definitely need to be rude. We definitely need to have too much in our toolbox to go back. We have to be ready for a different and more unique team in Miami now.”
The Celtics need to have a different team against the Heat, as well. Injured forward Gordon Hayward, who was ruled out of the first game of Boston’s first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers after a grade 3 sprained right ankle, is now out of quarantine after returning home for the birth of his fourth child Are out and working on the court before the game.
Stevens said he expected Hayward to return to a position against Miami but did not know when. Monday will mark four weeks after Hayward’s injury – which was the original deadline for his return. Boston’s series against Miami begins Tuesday night.
The Celtics will play in it, in large part because Smart’s game was a downward stretch on Friday night.
“Hustle, block, ruthlessness … he’s a big part of our team,” Stevens said. “He is a big part of our organization.
“I said it before the playoffs, we got a chance to play.” [the playoffs] Every year he has come here, and this is not a coincidence. ”