Though it’s only been a week since All-Star Weekend, the Celtics are already looking better on offense and defense than they did prior to the break. Leading up to the weekend festivities, Boston had lost four of its last five games and fallen behind the Toronto Raptors for first seed in the Eastern Conference.
After Boston’s last defeat, a 119-129 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Al Horford was candid on what he believed to be the root of his team’s issues.
“I think the theme here is our defense needs to get better,” Horford said. “We’re a group that’s built what we have so far based on the defensive end. We’ve taken a big step back on that, it’s obvious, the last few games.”
Boston’s slump on the defensive end was in direct correlation with Marcus Smart’s absence.
Smart, who missed 11 games after punching a picture frame and getting shards of glass in his hand, has always been the glue that keeps this team together.
In his first game back, Smart scored 12 points, dished out six assists, and registered a plus/minus of +15. Boston needs his ability to alleviate the ball-handling duties for Kyrie Irving and his role as their premier sixth-man.
“Just implementing him, and him just putting his stamp and identity on our team as well,” Irving raved of his teammate. “It just makes a lot of other guys’ jobs a lot easier because he covers up a lot of our mistakes as well as playing with unbelievable awareness on both ends of the floor. He understands spacing. He understands the little things that matter in putting a full 48-minute game together.”
Smart’s aggressive style of defense and commitment towards making hustle plays are what separates him from his NBA counterparts. When he is on the floor, Boston only gives up a 99.1 defensive rating to opponents. When Boston limits opponents to less than 100 points, they are 27-3.
Most importantly, when Smart plays, his teammates play better. Irving’s plus/minus increases from +0.6 to +4.6 with Smart on the floor, Horford’s increases from +1.2 to +4.3 and Jaylen Brown‘s increases from +1.0 to +4.6. Just like their plus/minus statistics, Smart’s teammates’ shooting percentages are better with him on court.
While it may be difficult to totally quantify the positive impact Smart has on his teammates’ play, the numbers we can see show trends in how much the Celtics miss him when he’s gone.
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