Floor burns, bruised ribs and an accidental elbow to the face – such a fee that goalkeeper Marcus Smart paid for eight years to establish himself as the Boston Celtics’ first and sometimes last line of defense.
Finally, last spring, the NBA world took note of it correctly, honoring Smart’s work with 2021-22 Kia Defensive Player of the Year award.
Now, when the floor burns, rib bruising and an accidental elbow in the face come, this is the DPOY winner paying the price.
Having a glass on his shelf at home doesn’t make those unpleasant moments any less bad. But there is a relief among the pain that was not there before.
“Appreciation,” Smart told NBA.com in a phone interview this week. “I don’t play for recognition, but in the game we play, where offense and defense are ruled at a disadvantage, winning this award is harder than ever. Especially being a goalkeeper to do that. It’s an unbelievable thing.”
Smart, 28, became the first goalkeeper since Seattle Hall of Famer Gary Payton in 1996 to be voted the best defender in the league, and only sixth backcourt player overall. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound veteran earned 37 #1 votes and 257 points last spring from a panel of 100 sports writers and broadcasters. Phoenix’s Michal Bridges (22 first votes) came in second and three-time winner Rudy Gobert (10), since trading from Utah to Minnesota, is third.
– Boston Celtics September 30, 2022
Oddly enough, Smart – featured here in the season’s first edition of the defensive ladder – believes that DPOY’s honor has brought more scrutiny into how he dominates opponents at that end of the field.
“I think I’m getting more criticism now because I won it,” he said. “You get fewer calls. It’s kind of weird. I’m thinking [I’d get reputation calls] Also, right? But I know who I am, I know what I can do. What I was doing and how well I was doing it.”
While Smart spoke on Monday, he faced a long night – the Celtics were in Memphis, tasked with taking on the explosive Ja Morant and the rest of the aggressive young Grizzlies. Mostly, Smart was eager to get back to the hotel for a pre-game nap, sticking to the idea that pre-match rest is just as important as proper defensive performance as energy and effort throughout.
Morant scored 30 points but Boston won, 109-106. Smart kept his nose and chest on most of the Memphis property. Turning liberally, the Celtics threw a fleet of defenders into the Grizzlies’ bouncy point. But with two minutes left, it was cleverly pulling the charge off Morant. He was the Boston player who would likely fall back to thwart any quick thoughts.
And during his night highlight reel The quarterback showed him on his side with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 12 assists, and his work as the Celtics quarterback was most important.
“There is a lot of rubbish in this world. Someone has to pick it up,” Smart said. “A lot of people don’t want to do that. You praise those people who are willing to take on jobs that others don’t. When it comes to defense, this is one of those jobs.
“Nobody wants to play defensive. Nobody wants to fight like that every night. They’re likely to injure themselves by throwing their bodies around. They sacrifice their bodies for the betterment of their team and teammates. That’s what makes a great defender. And obviously your basketball IQ and anticipation skills, commanding the entire defense.”
The defense swept through the Boston locker room like a virus under coach Aim Odoka last season, rewarding not only a SMART award but a first-team arrangement and a trip to the Finals.
“We talk about ‘action.’” Smart said. “Actions speak louder than words.” “It’s kind of hard to ask someone to do something you don’t. As for me, I will preach out, give all you have, effort and sacrifice for your teammates, I must lead by example. If I preach it and I don’t, it’s nonsense.
“Every day, if I think, ‘My body hurts.'” I’m exhausted. I didn’t get enough sleep, “I still go in there and take charge, dive on the floor, take out a big guy and take an elbow to his face,” Smart said.
Like the one he got on Saturday trying to guard New York’s hefty Julius Randle in office. I got a whistle too, though.
“She keeps your face there and every time you get hit, you keep coming back,” Smart said. His strong base and low center of gravity enable him to check out his larger opponents, but he places his jaw and nose close to his arms and elbows.
“For me to be able to do that,” said the Boston point guard, “he looks everyone in the eye and makes them think, ‘Shih, if he’s going to do that, man, yelling at me? I must listen! Then it becomes contagious.
The Celtics are 7-3 but fell defensively, ranking 23rd at 113.8 points allowed per 100 ownership compared to 106.2 last season. They’ve only kept a squad under 100 points once, compared to three times in their first 10 games a year ago, when they went 25-5 on nights like this.
Smart said plans haven’t changed much under new coach Joe Mazzola, and he’s refusing to use knee surgery at Robert Williams III Center as an excuse. But the lack of a man whose active defense disrupted his enemy after another in the playoffs offers an explanation.
“I guard the five more than I have,” Smart said. “Without Rob, we have to move the pieces around and people play in certain places they are not used to or not trained as much. The teams are doing a really good job of adapting without Rob back in there, trying to break that first streak and we’re over.”
Smart said that if Williams were available, he would be selected as the top DPOY candidate this season. He likes Bridges and Draymond Green as elite defenders, and throws his teammate Grant Williams into the conversation.
As for his continued commitment to that duty – nine previous winners have won the award again the following season – he is unwavering. He would still rather win the game by stopping than by shooting.
“Anyone, any day, can take a picture,” Smart said. “But to be able to lock up a guy in a match, especially when it’s all in his favour – from the clock, knowing what move he’s going to make and what shot he’s going to take, being able to grab contact and get a foul – it’s all in the interest of the attacking player. To be able to stop, last play, that’s a big time.”
Here are the top scorers in the November edition of the 2022-23 Kia Defensive Player Ladder:
(All stats as of Monday, November 7th)
1. Giannis Antikonmo, Milwaukee Bucks
It’s important to distinguish with the Bucks: Antetokounmpo is the best defensive player on the team, and thus, based on Milwaukee’s #1 rating (101.9), which is the best choice for this early ladder. But this does not negate that Brock Lopez is the most valuable defender in the team. The veteran center has adapted well to a few tweaks in coach Mike Budenholzer’s strategy this season, demanding less pure coverage and more movement. However, the 2020 DPOY winner from Greece brings the full kit, providing edge protection, resistance on the ball and throttle assist defense.
Sneaky, sneaky Giannis. 🤫 pic.twitter.com/XsVLzDXjVC
Bucks October 29, 2022
2. Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
I think we asked the ruling defender if there is one statistic that is more important in evaluating other defenders. Banned shots? Steal? deviations? Drawn graphics? Contested shots? “I’d say no,” Smart said. “Anyone can draw a charge, and anyone can block a shot. For me, the stat I throw there are deflections because that means you are around the ball. But anyone can have it too. … If I had to choose, it would be all the stats combined.” . Like an NFL quarterback rating to evaluate all-round defenders, in other words. Then again, there was this at the start of the season: In 102 possessions with smart guards James Harden, Tobias Harris, Therese Maxi, BJ Tucker, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Hero and Kyle Lowry in their first two games for Boston, these seven players combined to score 11 points.
In Boston’s first two games, Marcus Smart guarded James Harden, Tobias Harris, Therese Maxi, BJ Tucker, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Hero and Kyle Lowry for 102 possessions.
On that 102 property, Smart allowed these seven players to score 11 points together. pic.twitter.com/w4ev5hSQj9
– Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) October 22 2022
3. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors
For the guy who hasn’t yet crashed on the All-Defense berth in the previous five seasons, Anunoby is aiming for the top. “I’ve always wanted to be the best defensive player of the year,” he said last week. “I always thought I was the best defender in the league. I believed that during the past years I didn’t know how much.” One key is staying healthy (he has appeared in just 91 games in the past two seasons together). League leader steals (3.1 spgHe has 22 in his last five games in Toronto.
OG Anunoby is averaging 3.1 steals per game this season.
If he can keep up, he will be only the eighth player ever to have a 3-SPG season — and the first since 1991. pic.twitter.com/CDnFPqGd5B
– StatMuse (statmuse) November 7 2022
the next seven:
(in alphabetical order)
Pam Adebayo, Miami Heat
- Also aimed at DPOY, proud of its 1 to 5 versatility.
Michael Bridges, Phoenix Suns
- The nickname “Tough Duets” could be the way he defends.
Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Strength and ingenuity in dealing with major threats enhances D.
Herb Jones, New Orleans Pelicans
- Study NFL Security for Read-and-Reply Defense.
Brooke Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
- More adventurous but guarded edge (2.5 bpg, 15.2 disputed duo).
Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Eight blocks, 7 “Bill Russell style” (Cavs possession) vs. DET
Ivica Zubak, Los Angeles Clippers
- Opponents shoot 41%, and 7.5% are worse in the 19.3 shots they compete each night.
* * *
The opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect those of the National Basketball Association, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.