Marcus Smart, Celtics aim to get back on track vs. Rockets

The micro view offered something unsavory for the Boston Celtics, but the macro perspective yielded promise.

While the Celtics had their four-game winning streak snapped with a 121-109 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, they welcomed back perhaps their most vital contributor in guard Marcus Smart, who had missed 18 consecutive games with a calf injury.

Smart finished with 19 points, two rebounds and two assists in nearly 21 minutes. The Celtics weren’t exactly a defensive juggernaut with Smart back in the fold, but they were whole. And for a team that has struggled to generate positive momentum, a rotation offering some semblance of optimal health represents a plus.

The Celtics will face the Rockets on Sunday in Houston.

“It felt good to be back out there with those guys,” Smart said. “Obviously, first game back, a little jitters, but it’s like riding a bike. I come back and just do what I do and try to help my team win games. Obviously, we would love to have had this one. We were right there.

“We’ve got some things that we need to clean up, but it’s very promising. I’m glad of the way we played. I’m glad of the effort.”

For the immediate future, Smart will play under a 20-minute restriction. Such a designation requires some creativity maximizing his playing time, especially given the need to have Smart on the floor during crunch time.

The Celtics certainly prefer to have Smart for 20 minutes per night than the alternative of not having him at all. Eventually, the restriction will be lifted, and Boston will achieve normalcy.

“It was great to have him back out on the floor,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “The five-minute stint sucks. It is what it is. There’s only so many ways to manage that to have any rhythm at all if you want to be able to end the game and use his versatility defensively. I know he’ll be excited when that 20-minute deal is over.”

Story continues

The Rockets, mired in a 15-game skid and compromised by a roster ravaged by injuries, are in desperate search for anything positive. Houston fell at Utah 114-99 on Friday with just nine players available, including forward David Nwaba, who asked to play despite dealing with a serious wrist injury. Nwaba recorded 10 points and eight rebounds over 18 minutes.

Perhaps taking a cue from that individual effort, the Rockets delivered a spirited second-half rally against the team with the best record in the NBA, slicing a 26-point, third-quarter deficit to 94-90 in the fourth. Central to that comeback was the play of guard Kevin Porter Jr., who made his first start in his second game with Houston, posting 27 points with eight assists.

Porter, acquired from Cleveland on Jan. 22, dominated in the G League following his acquisition. Thus far, his time with the Rockets has delivered on expectations.

“He’s composed for a young kid. He doesn’t get too high (or) too low,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “And that’s a steadying influence on the rest of the group when you have a guy who has the ball in his hands most of the time. Him playing in that manner and not getting rattled by the opposing team or a turnover or a bad play, just having a next-play mentality, it’s pretty cool for a young guy to be that way.”

–Field Level Media

Published: 2021-03-14 01:07:56

Tags: #Marcus #Smart #Celtics #aim #track #Rockets

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