Marcus Smart missed a shot at the buzzer that could have won the game, as the Celtics suffered their fourth straight defeat, a 108-107 Laker win.
Smart’s miss, however, was not the story of the night. Laker forwards Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma, and Larry Nance Jr., and center Brook Lopez dominated up front. In fact, they combined for 69 points and 29 rebounds against an over-matched Celtics front line.
More about Smart’s shot and the wrong-headed criticism it drew below. To understand what happened to the Celtics — in this games and many games recently — you need to look not at highlight reels, but the numbers.
Laker hustle, Laker muscle
Laker effort, led by their bigs, out-desired Boston 21-12 in our proprietary (unofficial) hustle-plays stat. (“Hustleplays” takes into account loose ball opportunities and recoveries; rebound assists and blown rebounds; fast-break deflections and steals; and similar events.)
Some other key indicators:
— Points in the paint: Lakers 58, Celtics 44
— Laker second-chance points 23, Celtics 7
— Fast break points: Lakers 12, Celtics 5 (not a typo.)
All of which enabled the Lakers to overcome a ghastly 58 percent conversion rate on free-throws. (The Lakers took 36 of them, which produced some understandable frustration from the Celtics bench.)
Kyrie Irving again carried much of the scoring load for the Celtics, with little help from the front line outside of #42’s Horford-like 13 points and 6 assists.
Which brings us to Smart — who shot 7 of 13 for the night, including a miss on a first-half-ending heave.
After the Celtics gave away a one-time 14 point lead over a 26-minute span, the Celtics trailed by 6 points with about a minute to play. A Smart three and an exchange of baskets later, the Celtics trailed by one with 5.7 seconds.
Following a second Laker free throw miss (and four in the last 20 seconds), Smart rebounded the ball with 5.3 seconds to play, giving the Celtics a chance to win a game in which they had been out-efforted for about 36 minutes.
Marcus Smart’s shot and all that
Smart proceeded to push the ball up the floor, change direction, and get off a contested but pretty decent 3-point attempt just before the buzzer.
Here (image copyright Boston Celtics) is the play:
Critics argued he should have passed the ball to Terry Rozier or Kyrie Irving across the court.
Bill Simmons (still one of our favorite Celtics fans, but…) sniped:
IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING I WOULD HAVE RATHER HAD KYRIE IRVING TAKE THE LAST SHOT TONIGHT OVER MARCUS SMART.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) January 24, 2018
Sure. In the abstract, Kyrie taking a shot or Marcus Smart taking it: “duh.”
But making cross-court passes at that point carries risks of its own — just ask the Indiana Pacers. And takes time — time for the defense to react, and time off the clock.
“It was OK,” Brad Stevens said of the play. “I mean, it’s hard to get the ball from the rebound to the other end of the court without getting somewhat contested…. I thought that he got it into the operating area and got a pretty clean look at it.”
Despite stressing he would want the ball in Irving’s hands if possible, Horford said Smart’s final chance “felt right.”
Those are the key words: if possible. In a 5-second rebound situation with no time-outs, and several Lakers back to defend, it’s not clear it was.
Smart explained the play in his manly post-game comments.
“It’s tough,” Smart said. “I think it was like five seconds on the clock. We think he’s going to at least make one (free throw). We had a play set up. He missed, so everybody’s scrambling. It is frustrating, but we work on those plays, and you’ve got to be a basketball player and try to make a play.”
And there’s an excellent dissection of the sequence by Marc D’Amico for Celtics.com. D’Amico concludes:
“Smart didn’t convert on the shot, but that doesn’t mean he should come under attack for how the final 5.7 seconds of Tuesday’s game unraveled.”
And yes, as if losing a game like this wasn’t bad enough, the win moved the Lakers further down in the NBA draft lottery race.