Can Marcus Smart swing a playoff series? No. Does he scare opposing defenses? No. But will the Celtics feel his absence in the first round against the Pacers?
Smart is the type of player that every team would love to have. He’s one of those guys with an irrational confidence and a pesky defensive presence that can influence the momentum of the game. He would pick up a couple of hustle fouls just to pump the team up.
Smart’s oblique injury is a pleasant surprise for the Pacers, who have historically struggled with players like him. He’s without a doubt the Celtics’ best perimeter defender, if not their best overall defender, and is not afraid to throw his body around in the paint. If Oladipo was healthy, Smart would have been tasked with stopping him.
Smart’s averaging close to two steals per game and is cashing in on 36.4% of his threes. Last year, he was a key cog in the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they came within a stone’s throw of the Finals.
So, why do the Pacers benefit from Smart’s absence? For one, it’ll make it easier for Darren Collison and Cory Joseph to dish it off to the open man, as Smart’s 6-9 wingspan often goes overlooked. His relentless pursuit of boards will be missed since Smart is far and away their most persistent rebounder. Guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will need to establish a low post presence more often, especially with elite rebounding forwards like Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young crashing the glass.
At times this season, Smart had been the lone spark plug on a Celtics squad that had often found itself going through the motions. It’s hard to forget how Smart’s return to their first round series against the Bucks last season really shifted the defensive tide in Boston’s favor. His defense on Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon helped the Celts take a 3-2 lead and eventually take the series.
Given how the Pacers played during the last week of the season, I think their chances of knocking off Boston have taken a turn for the worse. In short, any little bit helps. Smart’s injury, while it not seem too significant, could end up being that turning point. I still think the Celtics will move on the second round, but Nate McMillan and company will push them to the brink.