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Saturday, 05 July 2014 20:08

Marcus Smart Struggles Early, Shines Late in Boston Celtics Debut

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Marcus Smart felt nervous early on, but found his rhythm en route to a 10-point performance. The Boston Celtics opened the NBA Summer League with an 85-77 over the Miami Heat, with Kelly Olynyk unsurprisingly leading the way with 20 points. Here are five quick hits from the first look at Marcus Smart and a few surprise performers.

1. Smart was ice cold in the first half; unable to score from the field. However, he was able to get to the line consistently and showed good tenacity attacking the rim. Although his ball handling was not good enough to carve up the offense with ease, he was able to find some lanes and attack them with his chest out.

His best offense was generated off of the five steals he forced, allowing him to get in transition and get to the line. He looked promising to be a Westbrook-like tornado in transition down the road. It wasn’t until late in the game that he found rhythm with his pull-up perimeter jumper off the bounce, but it was a beautiful move that should be a go-to move in the future. That put the Celtics up 80-73 with 1:20 left and they never looked back. Smart’s clutch play late in the game showed the kind of demeanor that has had scouts and coaches raving about him.

2. Shabazz Napier was taken out of the game by a mix of intense defensive pressure from Smart and Phil Pressey, who continues to impress on the ball despite giving up plenty of inches and pounds. But Smart showed he can bully guards and prevent penetration well. With a nearly 60-pound, yes, 60-pound, advantage on Napier, the rim was a distant mirage for the Roxbury native. Smart’s defensive play off the ball shows that he will be able to be a threat in passing lanes and on sideline traps, but he got caught with his back to the basket a few times.

Despite that, his coach loved what he saw. “He has a really good idea of team basketball, which is really exciting for us,” Celtics summer league coach Jay Larranaga said per Jay King of Masslive.com. That sentiment was shared by the rookie as well. “I was born and raised playing defense,” Smart said. “Every team I played with was a defensive-minded team first before offense. It was always defense.”

3. Kelly Olynyk will be enshrined in the non-existent Orlando Summer League Hall of Fame one day. After a stellar performance last year that set expectations slightly too high for the ponytail rocking Canadian, he went right back to inflating those expectations with a game-high 20 points and a more chiseled upper body that should allow him to mix it up down low more than last season.

4. The back of the Celtics’ roster has plenty of openings for players trying to make the squad on non-guaranteed deals. Phil Pressey, Colton Iverson and Chris Johnson all started, while Chris Babb came off the bench. Iverson dominated the first half, menacing down low and moving significantly better than last July. He appeared to have trimmed down in Turkey and improved his mobility to the point that he even got a steal and went coast-to-coast in the first quarter. Johnson looked steady as usual, although he did little to stand out aside from a game best +22 differential. Phil Pressey had seven assists, but his six turnovers negated much of that distribution. But Babb could not make his presence felt coming off the bench, making just one of his five shots, which all came from beyond the arc.

5. Babb’s poor shooting looked even worse next to Dairis Bertans and Mike Mosner, who both shot well from the perimeter and showed promise to make a run at the end of the roster and fill the need for a shooter. Mosner, a 6’8 gunner from Oregon, hit some tough threes and grabbed three steals. His energy carried the Celtics in the fourth quarter and got them the separation they needed after it being a one possession game throughout most of the first half.

Next up for the Celtics will be the Pacers on Monday, who fell to Brooklyn 101-81 Saturday.

Jared Weiss

Jared Weiss is the Celtics Locker Room Reporter and Host of The Garden Report: Celtics Post Game Show on Celtics Blog and CLNS Radio. J Weiss hosts The Block Party on Thursday nights at 8 PM and enjoys long walks on the beach while watching Rajon Rondo game footage. You can reach J Weiss at JWeiss@clnsradio.com and @CLNS_JaredWeiss.