LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics, Raptors guard Norman Powell had the ball on the counterattack against Celtics guard Marcus Smart with less than a minute left in the overtime double and converted a layup and-1
Less than a minute before the end of match 7 on Friday night, the same scenario was presented. This time around, however, Smart made sure there would be a different result.
“As soon as Norman took the ball, I immediately remembered the last game,” Smart later said.
“In my mind I was just saying, ‘He has to crush him. I won’t give any foul. I’ll just meet him up above and see who wins that battle.'”
It turned out that Smart’s defense, as is often the case, won this time. And, as a result, the Celtics won 92-87 and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Smart’s block on Powell with 58.2 seconds left – a play reminiscent of LeBron James’s chasedown block against Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals – prevented Toronto from having the best chance of evening the score in moments. finals, as the Celtics progressed to the conference finals for the third time in four years.
After the Raptors survived close calls in Games 3 and 6, Smart’s lockdown proved to be the moment that ultimately caused the reigning champions to return from the NBA bubble to the Walt Disney World Resort.
“I bet on myself 110% of the time,” said Smart. “I’m in the first team defending everyone for a reason, and I believe in it with all my heart.”
Smart often falls behind his high-profile teammates in Boston, and this has remained the case in Game 7. Jayson Tatum (29 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists) became the second-youngest player in NBA history. to have at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in a game 7 – behind only his idol, Kobe Bryant. Jaylen Brown had 21 points and Kemba Walker struggled overall but made a couple of key plays in the fourth, including overturning free throws with 7.9 seconds left.
But ask anyone around the Celtics, and they’ll tell you right away that Smart – with his tenacity, defense, and uninterrupted hustle and bustle – is the heart and soul of this team. And it was fitting that his game was what helped seal Boston’s victory, both in this game and in this series.
“That block was so special,” Walker said. “It was unreal. That’s why he’s on the first team in defense. He shows it night after night. He made so many great plays tonight. A lot of the things he does go unnoticed.
“But that kid is special, man. He’s on a different level than that part of the basketball court.”
Smart played a huge role in Raptors star Pascal Siakam’s fights on the series. He made more stops on Powell in the fourth quarter before his highlights block. And, if it wasn’t for Toronto’s late comeback in Game 6, Smart’s first triple-double in that game would have been the thing that brought Boston to the East Finals against the Miami Heat one game earlier.
However, the Celtics will simply be glad they got there, having survived this slugfest of a series against the Raptors, who gave Boston absolutely everything it could handle despite being overtaken for the vast majority of the series by the team’s own admission. .
“Obviously,” Celtics manager Brad Stevens said, when asked if Boston had improved after playing this series against Toronto. “I mean, I’ve coached many playoff games now, many playoff series and many NCAA tournament games. I’d say we’ve seen more defenses and more stuff and more … just when something worked, the next play didn’t work. plus, this is a credit to them.
“We should definitely be hardened. We should definitely have a lot more in our toolbox to go back to. We need to prepare for a different and more unique team now in Miami.”
The Celtics should also be a different team against the Heat. Wounded forward Gordon Hayward, who was out of the first game of the Boston first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers after sustaining a Grade 3 right ankle sprain, is now out of quarantine after returning home for the birth of his fourth child. and was working on the pitch before the game.
Stevens said he expected Hayward to come back against Miami at some point, but doesn’t know when. Monday will mark four weeks of Hayward’s injury, which was the original time frame for his return. The Boston vs Miami series begins on Tuesday night.
The Celtics will play it, in large part, due to Smart’s play on Friday night.
“The hustle and bustle, the block, the toughness … it’s an important part of our team,” said Stevens. “It is an important part of our organization.
“I said it before the playoffs, we have a chance to play [the playoffs] every year he has been here, and it is no coincidence “.