In Game 3 and 4, the successful adjustment the Bucks made in inserting Thon Maker into the rotation came as a forced change through injury. John Henson was suffering from back soreness, allowing Maker to get his opportunity. With the series locked at 2-2, Boston were able to make an adjustment of their own, as Marcus Smart was declared fit to play in last nights Game 5. It was Smart’s first appearance since suffering a broken thumb on March 11th against the Indiana Pacers.
Without doubt, Smart’s influence was telling in a crushing loss for Milwaukee. Kane Pitman (defense), and Joe Franke (offense), analyse his impact on both in Game 5 and moving forward:
Smart has always been known as a physical, tenacious defensive player. His 220 pound frame allowing him to physically body up offensive players that stand taller than his 6’4″ frame. His defensive rating of 99.4 on the season is lower than Boston’s overall league best rating of 101.5. He is without doubt, a difference maker on that end.
On the night, Smart accounted for three of the Celtics seven blocked shots, and picked up a steal in 26 minutes of court time. Smart checked in with 4:08 remaining in the first quarter with the scores tied at 13. By the time the quarter was over, the Bucks trailed by 8 points.
This play typifies the awareness Smart has on defense. His role is to defend Tony Snell but as Snell drifts away to the corner, Smart is wise to the fact the Bucks lack of spacing takes Snell out of the play. He is able to lurk in the paint and correctly anticipate the Dellavedova lob to meet Giannis at the summit. The intelligence of the play is brilliant, the actual execution is even more ridiculous.
It’s those types of high energy, crowd lifting plays that Smart was able to pull off that swung the momentum back in Boston’s favour.
Khris Middleton had been red hot in shooting 63 percent from the field through the first four game of the series, his ability to find the mismatch on the severely undersized Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin has been a money move. The addition of Smart loomed as a difficult matchup for Khris, and we see above why that is the case. Admittedly, Middleton is prone to boarding the tough shot express, but Smart’s added bulk clearly comes into play. After making his initial move, Smart is able to hold Khris at bay. With the shot clock running down, he is forced into a leaning fade away jump shot with Smart in his face. It’s a different look for Middleton and a tough physical matchup to contend with. He isn’t able to get his to his spots unhindered on Smart and will need to adjust accordingly.
The Bucks offense faulted in Game 5, and Smart’s energy and intelligence on the defensive end played a major role in Milwaukee’s struggles. Staying stagnant on offense and attempting to run iso-offense up against Smart will likely not end well.
What Smart can do on defense was evident through his play Tuesday night. However, to say that the Celtics added an offensive threat would be to overlook the type of player Smart is. Though he might be a dominant factor on defense, Smart’s return means very little to the Bucks defensive scheme.
Simply put, the guy is not going score in volume. Despite Bledsoe’s lackluster effort to defend Brown’s three, the Bucks have done a fairly good job of closing on shooters this series. Even though it might feel as though Boston has been knocking down anything they throw up, Milwaukee has held them to under 35% from deep the last three games. What’s more, Boston has shot just under 40% from the field the last four games, on average. Fortunately, when Smart is open he’ll shoot. When he is not, he’ll still shoot. What we do know about Smart is that he is going to take roughly 10 shots a game; about five of which will be threes. But with a career field goal percentage hovering around 36% (30% from three), Smart is not going to space the floor. If anything, he will only bring down Boston’s team field goal percentages.
The biggest mistake the Bucks can make is to treat him as though he is an offensive threat. In the clip below, Rozier’s drive and kick should not result in Brogdon rushing to contest the shot (Yes, this game was from earlier this season).
Below, Maker should not be up this tight on the perimeter. Bucks’ defenders need to engrain Shea Serrano’s proverbial phrase into their brains, “Shoot your shot, Marcus.” Here, Maker should be giving himself space to shuffle his feet in the event that Smart drives.
In this last clip, there are a couple things going on. First, Middleton should not be hugging Smart so tightly on the perimeter. Sag off him a bit. Remember, “Shooters shoot, Marcus.” Secondly, Maker should immediately roll to the hoop on the Aron Baynes screen. There is no reason to hedge on a screen where the ball handler shoots 30% from deep. Because Maker and Middleton both collapse on Smart, Delly is forced to stay with Baynes, and Rozier is wide open from deep. This is especially true when playing a team like Boston. They love to move the ball.
Treating Smart as though he is some kind of offensive threat is going to hurt Milwaukee. It is this kind of strict defensive strategy that could explain why the Celtics’ effective field goal percentage increases to 53% with Smart on the court. It drops 3 full points when he is off (per SBNation).
The fact that Marcus Smart is one of the worst shooters in the NBA should be enough for Milwaukee to realize they do not need to treat him otherwise. Though, as the story has gone for years, that would make too much sense for the Bucks to accept it.
The injection of Marcus Smart into this series gave the Celtics new life. It’s now up to Joe Prunty and the Bucks to swing the momentum back in their favour.