Why Marcus Smart's Two-Way Play Could Swing Celtics-Bucks Series

Forsberg: Why Smart's two-way play could ultimately swing C's-Bucks series originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

It’ll be forever known as "The Al Horford Game" and the biggest development might ultimately be how Jayson Tatum got himself going at the end of Monday’s Game 4 in Milwaukee.

But Marcus Smart's efforts in that game should not go overlooked.

There's one play we can’t stop thinking about: Late in the fourth quarter with the Celtics trying to stiff-arm Milwaukee’s push, Smart jumped in front of the locomotive that was Giannis Antetokounmpo and drew a charge with 3:54 to play.

Turn your sound up and listen … 

You could hear the thud in the arena and you can most certainly hear it on the television mics. Smart used Jaylen Brown as a bit of a screen before setting his feet and then took a shoulder to the chest before getting rocketed into the Fiserv Forum floor. All to prevent a momentum layup.

Smart offered a firm reminder during Monday’s game why he won Defensive Player of the Year. With the Celtics operating without Robert Williams, Smart allowed the team to go small in spots, including at the start of the fourth quarter, while taking on the challenge of defending Antetokounmpo for Boston’s undersized group.

Smart held up about as well as any Boston defender against Antetokounmpo despite giving up about eight inches in size.

Smart’s fingerprints were all over Monday’s win. In the fourth quarter, he quietly pumped in nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and was plus-15 while playing the entire frame. Smart lit the small-ball lineup’s fuse early in the fourth with a 3-pointer off a nice pitch back from Derrick White when Milwaukee’s defense got caught overloaded on Tatum’s side of the floor. 

But Smart’s best offensive work was still to come. He had a brilliant little sequence where he got on Jrue Holiday’s hip and with the rest of Milwaukee’s defense tied to their covers, Smart sashayed all the way to the rim for the sort of easy layup that Boston so rarely gets in this series.

Celtics Talk: "The Al Horford Game" - Celtics stun Bucks to tie series | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

After the Bucks closed within six with under two minutes to play, Smart ensured things wouldn’t get any closer. He found himself 1-on-1 against Holiday and just bulled his way to the charge circle before hitting the sort of 5-foot turnaround that Holiday seemed to make throughout this series to stem Boston’s rallies.

Smart essentially repeated the sequence 30 seconds later before hitting a late-block fadeaway over Grayson Allen to push Boston’s lead back to 10 with under a minute to play.

The NBA’s tracking had Milwaukee players finishing 5-of-15 shooting against Smart. Not only did Antetokounmpo struggle, but Jrue Holiday and Pat Connaughton combined for only four points on 1-of-6 shooting against Smart.

"I think Marcus was instrumental for us. He just kept talking to us in the huddles, telling us to stay with it," said Horford. "I was extremely proud of him. He showed tonight why he was the Defensive Player of the Year. Just the number that he did in guarding Giannis, guarding Jrue, just taking the challenge. He was unreal. 

"And I don’t think -- probably people aren’t talking about that enough. But he was just, for me, that was the game-changer. He was unbelievable, defensively."

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