Notebook: Smart's defense stands out
July, 5, 2014
By Brian Robb, Special to ESPNBoston.com
ORLANDO -- The games won't start counting for real for another few months, but Marcus Smart already admitted to feeling a few butterflies as he made his professional debut for the Boston Celtics on Saturday afternoon during Orlando Summer League play.
"First half, I'm not going to lie, I was nervous a little bit," Smart said following a scoreless first half that included an 0-for-4 shooting line and two missed free throws. "It was my first pro game with a new group of guys. It was a little nerve-wracking."
Luckily for the Celtics, Smart's nerves did not last past halftime, and the guard settled down to score 10 points in the second half. The 20-year-old also added a game-high five steals to help Boston defeat the Miami Heat 85-77 in the team's summer opener at the Amway Center.
Smart spoke about how his teammates helped him get comfortable as the game progressed.
"Coming to the bench everyone was just saying, 'Just do what you do. Just play ball and have fun.' And that's what I did," Smart said.
"He definitely slowed down," Kelly Olynyk said of Smart's second-half play. "He let the game come to him, he didn't force anything. He was real good in the second half for us, not only offensively, but defensively. He got to the line, made some shots and plays, and defensively caused some havoc. He was really good for us."
Fernando MedinaMarcus Smart admitted that nerves contributed to his shaky first half, but he settled in and played well in the second half.
The No. 6 overall pick added five rebounds, three assists and a team-high eight free throw attempts in the win. Despite an overall off shooting night (2-for-8 from the field), Smart's performance in all facets of the game earned him plenty of accolades from Celtics summer league coach Jay Larranaga.
"He plays with a tremendous intensity," Larranaga said. "He's a great teammate. He showed that from the beginning. He was a big part of why we played so well as a team on both ends of the floor. He had some great help defensive plays you wouldn't expect a 20-year-old to be able to do, but he has a really good idea of team basketball, which is really exciting for us."
The Celtics elected to play Smart alongside point guard Phil Pressey for the majority of the contest, which allowed Smart to split time between playing off the ball and handling point duties when Pressey left the floor. It was a situation that the rookie didn't mind at all once he got into the flow of the game.
"Felt comfortable at both really," Smart said of playing both guard spots. "We have a great guard with Phil, so they decide to put me at the 2, which I was totally fine with that. Got to get out in the open court, let me use my athleticism and physicality so I was fine with that, but I was also fine with playing the 1 when Phil needed a break."
That versatility should help Smart continue to shine throughout the week as he asserts himself in the Boston backcourt.
"I think [Smart's] an all-around player," Larranaga said. "He's about winning, I think is what you see. He's not about one thing or another thing. Like any young guy, he has a lot of stuff to work on, but the really exciting thing is that he wants to win."
Read on for more notes from Saturday's action:
DEFENSE STANDS OUT
With the addition of a top-rated defender in Smart to a talented summer league roster, the Celtics turned heads on Saturday with their defensive effort. Miami was limited to just 32 percent shooting from the field and committed 25 turnovers, 15 of which came on steals from Boston.
Smart spoke about his commitment to that end of the floor after the game.
"I was born and raised playing defense. Every team I played with was a defensive-minded team first before offense," Smart said.
Larranaga also pointed to the team's stellar communication on the back lines of their defense as a major positive in the win.
"We were worried about [communication on defense] going into the first game," Larranaga admitted. "We felt that was the one thing we hadn't done well in practice, communicating our coverages, talking more. Part of that is the relationship you have with your teammates. Colton [Iverson], Mike [Moser] and Kelly were great in the game."
Larranaga added: "We talk about how having a defensive DNA. We want every player putting on a Celtics jersey to think defense first, and the offense will take care of itself."
OLYNYK CONTINUES SUMMER LEAGUE DOMINANCE
One year after earning himself some premature comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki for his play during 2013 Orlando Summer League action, Olynyk shined once again in his 2014 summer debut. There were no Nowitzki comparisons this time around, but Olynyk stood out against the competition as he posted team highs in points (20) and rebounds (8) in 31 minutes of action.
"I wouldn't say it comes easier," Olynyk said of his play, "because now everyone knows you and everyone is keying on you. I think you are more comfortable, you know what's going to happen since you've been there before."
YOUNG'S STATUS UNCERTAIN MOVING FORWARD
Boston's other first-round pick James Young traveled with the team to Orlando, but he did not make his pro debut Saturday against the Heat. The guard remains sidelined with a strained neck he suffered in a car accident last month.
"I have no medical expertise," Larranaga said when asked about the injury. "I was told James was not playing today and I said, 'OK.'"
It still remains unclear whether Young will see any action this week, as the team intends to remain cautious with the 18-year-old swingman out of Kentucky.
"Those decisions, Danny [Ainge], Brad [Stevens] and our medical staff will make," Larranaga said about Young's status moving forward. "If they tell me he's allowed to play, he will be playing because we would like as many good players as possible. Whatever they tell me, we'll do."