Brooklyn Nets guard Donald Sloan tried to preserve some clock late in the third quarter of Monday's game and allowed an inbounds feed to simply roll past midcourt as the Nets set up for an offensive possession. Smart was perched about 10 feet away from the ball, outside the center-court logo, but eventually lunged like a cobra as the ball rolled near Sloan's feet.
Smart appeared to come away clean with the ball while rolling to his backside and looking to pass, but the referee delivered a quick whistle and called a jump ball even though Sloan was scrambling to reclaim the ball.
Sloan ended up winning the jump ball, and the Nets scored on the possession after a couple offensive rebounds. But Smart's effort summed up the aggressive defensive tone Boston played with en route to a 103-94 triumph.
"It was unexpected. It was a great defensive play, and the team loved it," Smart said Tuesday while reflecting on his lunge. "It encouraged [his Boston teammates] to do the same thing, to make plays on the defensive and offensive end."
"I've always wanted to do it but never had the opportunity," Smart said. "It’s a great play if you look at it. The guy’s not really expecting you to make that play. And you come up with the ball, it’s a great play; if you don’t, it’s a bad play."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens admitted it was a high-risk/high-reward situation but marveled at the effort.
"I’ve never seen a guy dive on a ball rolling up the court before," Stevens said. "It was a heck of a play. I think it surprised everybody. But it’s been fun to watch him. He’s made some huge defensive plays and has had some good moments on offense, too."
Added Stevens: "You’ve got to get the steal. You have to because, otherwise, you take yourself out of the play. I think it’s the old, we love that kind of gamble when you get it, and it’s a futile attempt when you don’t. But it was a good play by him because he got the ball. And because of his effort."
Smart felt like he might have even surprised the referee and wonders if that contributed to the quick whistle.
Said teammate Jae Crowder of Smart's dive: "Unbelievable, and I think it was too quick of a jump ball. I thought he ripped it away at a fast rate and we had the turnover. That’s how it goes, but that shows what winning is about."
Echoed Evan Turner: "The stuff like that, the intangibles. I think the way he plays along with the way others play, it really sets the tone. And I think when we play like that, when we play tough, blue-collar basketball, we’re typically in a better situation than playing the pretty way."
The Celtics finished with 10 steals while turning 14 Brooklyn turnovers into 20 points overall. Boston turned the ball over just seven times, leading to four points for Brooklyn.