Marcus Smart on missing ‘devastating’ East finals opener

MIAMI — The 2021-22 NBA Defensive Player of the Year has been fuming since Tuesday.

Sidelined with a right foot sprain in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, Marcus Smart was going to force his way into the lineup for Game 2 whether he was ready or not.

“I couldn’t miss tonight,” Smart told Yahoo Sports after Game 2. “Couldn’t do it. I know Game 1 wasn’t us. I had to get out there.”

Celtics players privately described Game 1 as being “punked out of a win,” sources said, referencing that third-quarter meltdown in which Boston outscored the Heat in every frame except the third. Smart called out the lack of toughness and attentiveness during a timeout huddle in that pivotal third quarter.

“It was devastating,” Smart told Yahoo Sports of that 39-14 third-quarter margin in which the Celtics compiled eight turnovers. “I actually got into the guys. I really chewed into them. They felt it and I felt bad for them because it’s one thing to be out there with your guys and then another thing to not be playing and hearing me come at them the way I did. So for me, when I inserted myself back in for Game 2, I wanted to come back and show the guys what I meant by my words and with my actions. I’m showing them I got y’all backs.”

Celtics guard Marcus Smart scored 24 points and had 12 assists in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Heat on Thursday in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

When asked specifically about what bothered him in that quarter, he referred to the inattention by the team’s best players.

“It was just the way we turned the ball over. jayson [Tatum] had two turnovers where Jimmy [Butler] just looked at him and he threw the ball right at him,” Smart told Yahoo Sports. “And that’s not like him. He knows that, and we had to be better. I know how great Jayson is and I know how great this team is, but those turnovers are something we just can’t have in this series.”

Smart can call out his teammates because of the equity he has built in doing whatever it takes to give his team the best opportunity to succeed.

That’s why his presence contributed substantially to Heat fans hitting the exits with 10 minutes remaining in Game 2 on Thursday night with Miami facing a colossal 30-point deficit.

The Celtics bounced back with ferocious fight, manhandling the Heat en route to a 127-102 pummeling to even the series at one game apiece.

Smart provided 24 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and three steals. He is the only Celtic to record at least 20 points, 10 assists and three steals in the playoffs since Rajon Rondo in 2012.

“I did not see that stat, but I’ll take it,” Smart told Yahoo Sports. “That’s an awesome, awesome accomplishment. I’m just trying to do what I can to help my team win. These games are important.”

Al Horford also made his return in Game 2 after spending almost 48 hours in health and safety protocols. He added 10 points and three rebounds in 32 minutes.

Butler has had his way in these playoffs with many now regarding the star as the best overall player left in the postseason. He went for 41 points on an efficient 12-of-19 from the field in the first meeting with Smart in street clothes.

Butler still ended up with a game-high 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting on Thursday, but according to Second Spectrum, Smart defended Butler on 31 plays and held him to nine points.

This season’s best defender explained how he goes about working on the defensive end before he works on the offensive end.

“I watch film with the team and then I start watching film on individual matchups that I could be possibly starting on,” Smart told Yahoo Sports. “I watch movie by myself for at least an hour and a half. I just try to look at their tendencies. I try to look at what they do best. I try to look at what they don’t do, what they would like to do and what they really don’t do so much. It’s similar to an offensive player looking at the defenses and how they’re going to play them defensively. I do the same. You want to know how they’re going to play you offensively and how you need to play them. But Jimmy’s a good player. I’ve got my work cut out.”

The series now shifts to Boston for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday.

“This series is far from over, but we’re ready for the challenge,” Smart told Yahoo Sports.

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