Smart’s Homecoming: Celtics’ Defensive Maestro Returns to Boston, Rekindling Glory Days

Smart’s Homecoming: Celtics’ Defensive Maestro Returns to Boston, Rekindling Glory Days

Smart’s Homecoming: Celtics’ Defensive Maestro Returns to Boston, Rekindling Glory Days

In Sunday’s comeback, Smart won’t play

Smart’s Homecoming: Celtics’ Defensive Maestro Returns to Boston, Rekindling Glory Days

The return of Marcus Smart to TD Garden on Sunday is sure to be emotional, and although the former guard for the Celtics is out due to a finger injury, Joe Mazzulla is still holding out hope that he can produce one of his iconic performances.

“Hopefully during a timeout, I don’t know if his hand still hurts, but he can dive on the floor for a loose ball and roll one out,” said the Celtics coach.

That’s unfortunate news, since Smart—who is currently with the Grizzlies—is still healing from the injury he sustained to his right finger last month.

On Sunday, however, Smart will be present in the building, and his presence will bring back fond memories of one of the most cherished players in recent Celtics history. There will be a special celebration and a memorial video, planned.

Just before midnight on June 21, after nine seasons with the Celtics, which included innumerable hustle plays and memorable moments that endeared him to the city, an NBA Finals berth, a Defensive Player of the Year award, and all of the charity and community work that made him a fixture in Boston, Smart was shockingly traded to the Grizzlies in a deal that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Boston.

The Celtics teammates were equally shocked as he was, and Payton Pritchard described it as “wild to see” on Saturday.

Brad Stevens, who made the move that indicated the team’s confidence in Derrick White as their starting point guard, said it was difficult to make because of how much Smart meant to the team and the community.

Smart expressed some disappointment. In the wake of the trade, he said that the Celtics had told him the week before they had no plans to trade him.

He said he was blindsided by the news. He was asleep, and his agent called his fiance, who woke him to tell him. But that didn’t take away his love from the city he grew up and became an adored figure in. And even though it was time for the Celtics to move on from him, he was irreplaceable in many ways.

“I’ve always said you don’t replace a guy like him, you just find different ways to be able to do it,” Mazzulla said. “So who he is will forever be etched into the city of Boston because of what he’s done in community service, and what he’s done here, just helping represent – I think he’s one of the guys that started our defensive foundation before I got here because it was high-level and execute different coverages. So just like I said, who he is off the court and then kind of what he brings from a mindset standpoint and a defensive intensity standpoint. It’ll be good to see him (Sunday).”

With his return, Smart will serve as a reminder of the defensive foundation and grit and tenacity standard he established throughout his nine seasons.

Jaylen Brown made it a point to prioritize defense after Smart was moved in order to make sure the Celtics wouldn’t falter there without him.

Without Smart, the Celtics’ defense has remained among the top five. Another seasoned All-Defensive guard, Jrue Holiday, has been a great asset.

White has continued to produce well on defense, while Brown has played the best defense of his career.

All it looks like is a slight change. However, nobody is as adept at it as Smart.

“You don’t replace it, I think it just looks different,” Mazzulla said. “I think (Jayson) Tatum dove on the floor for a loose ball (on Thursday night), Derrick’s winning plays, the back tips in transition, Jrue’s constant intensity, I think just focusing on everybody’s strengths and what they’re able to do. Jaylen’s individual defense, like that’s just as tough as what another player does, it just looks different, and so I think you just have to highlight each person’s definition of toughness and how that pertains to helping our team win.”

Nonetheless, there’s no denying that Smart laid the foundation for the Celtics’ ongoing defensive mentality. Among other things, Sunday will be an opportunity to recognize that.

“I think when you have a guard that plays as hard as he does who guards centers, guards point guards, picks up full court, boxes out, charges, all those little things that I think go into it,” Mazzulla stated, “like I think for him to win Defensive Player of the Year, he’s what, the first guard since Gary Payton, it’s only something bigs do, so when you see a guard have an impact on the game on so many levels the way he did, I think that’s kind of what started it.”

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