Marcus Smart says the Celtics need to get down and dirty on defense. (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)
WALTHAM — Marcus Smart is a man of pride. And when it comes to his game in the NBA, it starts with defense.
What was on display Sunday night – and for the better part of the season – has hit home with the third-year defensive specialist.
The Celtics were blown out on the home court Sunday night in 123-107 loss to the Nuggets. They allowed 42 points in the first quarter and trailed 77-52 at the half. From the start, it was not good.
“We’re just not in it. We’re coming out too cool,” Smart said. “Teams are coming out ready. We’re not sneaking up on nobody this year. We’re the hunted. Everybody is coming out after us and we’re so used to being the guys that are sneaking up on everybody. That’s just not the case this year.
“We played a team that was hungry and was playing with a chip on their shoulder. Their coach ridiculed them and they felt that. They came out ready. They punched us in the mouth and we stood there and took it. Today’s practice was (about) we get punched, we’ve got to be ready to punch back. We’ve got to be ready to be in a boxing match.”
It got so bad that after the game, coach Brad Stevens called his team a finesse team. That might as well be a four-letter word to the ears of Smart.
“Yeah, we definitely do. That’s definitely a challenge. We’re not a finesse team,” Smart said after Monday’s practice. “We understand that. But we did play finesse the other night. So, he was right to call us that. We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and we’ve got to own up to it and take responsibility. The good thing about this sport and any sport, especially basketball, you get to go play another game. We’ve got to throw that game out the window and get ready for Wednesday.”
Monday’s practice was primarily about film, specifically watching all the things the Celtics did wrong as a team on defense.
“It was horrible. Everybody was disgusted with it. Everybody was disgusted with themselves and the way the team played,” Smart said. “We know that’s not how we play and that something that has to change and that starts with each other and started today in practice.”
Longer than normal?
“Yeah, it was longer. We watched all negative clips, the things we didn’t do,” Smart said. “We just kept it honest with each other. With the team, that’s what you need. You need everybody to be honest. You can’t have anybody worrying about themselves because everybody did something wrong. It wasn’t just one person out there. It was everybody. It was a good thing to do today, watch film, watch what we did wrong and try to fix those mistakes.”
“We were out there today. Everybody was into each other, competing and trying to make sure they won’t be that guy on film again.”
Smart has faith that the team allowing the third most points in the NBA per game (111.8) can turn it around because they know what their standards are.
“Just keep going hard. Just keep going out there and bringing the energy and I know they will. They do it in practice. Being around these guys, they’re going to pick it up,” Smart said.
This is a Celtics team that right now is missing two huge pieces in the front court in Al Horford (concussion) and Jae Crowder (ankle). Kelly Olynyk is getting closer but still hasn’t seen action. That means players like Jaylen Brown have to learn on the fly.
“Just the experience. Al’s experience, Kelly’s experience, we lack that. And Jae being about to play the ‘4’ and the ‘3’, his versatility. You lack that with guys that have been here a while and know what they’re doing. The young guys are still learning,” Smart said. “You’ve got guys that aren’t used to it yet and they’re put in a fire. That’s why we’ve got guys like me, Gerald, Jae, Al, those guys have been here helping them and trying to teach them. Unfortunately, because of the injuries, we don’t have the time to take the time and walk them through things. They have to be able to learn on the fly.
“This isn’t college or high school no more. This is the cream of the crop. Unfortunately, you get put in the fire. You don’t have time to worry about yourself or to feel sorry for yourself. You’ve got to be ready to take criticism and be coachable. And that’s the part of being a great team and a great teammate.”