Watching Marcus Smart play basketball is a difficult experience to describe. The joy of watching him go horizontal in an effort to recover a loose ball can be almost immediately offset by an off-balance bricked transition three-- and it often is. Frustration bubbles over as he tries to flop for a foul that not even a blind grandmother would give him, then completely disappears as he gets back up and sprints down the floor for a chase-down block.
Early in his career, that chaos was completely unchecked. But he's learned to control that chaos to affect basketball games in a net positive manner. Besides his All-NBA defense, Smart has turned into one of those guys who makes "winning plays." If the Boston Celtics need a turnover on a crucial possession, Smart will probably find a way to make that happen. If the team is dragging in the middle of the game, Smart will check in to draw a charge, make a wild transition pass, then force another turnover and lob it up to a teammate to up the energy level.
There's an eight-minute video on YouTube of "Marcus Smart Moments" that is unlike any other highlight reel you'll see. For every good pass or last-second shot attempt, there are a half-dozen absurd defensive or clutch plays that few other players can make.
The Celtics' Game 2 battle against the Toronto Raptors introduced the greater basketball audience to this very experience. For the first three quarters, Smart was a pest on defense, but his "highlight" play was the most egregious attempt to draw a foul I've seen in my basketball viewing life and certainly an all-time contender for that title. It was, for Smart, a relatively quiet game.
Then the fourth quarter started. The Celtics were down by 12 and Kemba Walker was as cold as he's ever been in Boston green. The game felt like it was on the verge of a blowout as the Raptors relentlessly kept attacking the basket and interrupting the Celtics' offense. Serge Ibaka had transformed into Kevin Durant from behind the arc.
Smart took one three, and he made it. His first made three of the game after going 0-for-4 to that point. Then he made another. And another. And another. Then one more, with a foul on top. The first three was wide-open in transition, but each one after was contested. They were not good shots for the Boston Celtics, who possess three elite, high-volume three-point shooters, none of which are Smart. Yet he made them anyway, and the Celtics were suddenly back in the lead.
He didn't make another three the rest of the way, but he didn't need to. Smart's job was done. He's a sparkplug, but not like how Lou Williams is a spark plug as a multi-time Sixth Man of the Year award winner. Whenever his team needs the *it* factor, Smart provides. Sometimes, like last night, it comes through his offense. Sometimes it comes through his defense. Sometimes it comes from a flop.
Smart is aggravating. He brings joy and frustration in equal bunches. He's unlike any player in the league. For a brief stretch in Game 2, everyone realized that. What he does is usually unquantifiable. Smart might miss every shot he takes in Game 3, but he'll figure out a way to affect the outcome regardless. Because that's what Smart does.