The Marcus Smart Experience is coming up on the tail end of its second season in Boston, and the best way to explain it is that there’s still no good way to explain it. I mean, it’s obviously a roller coaster with highs and lows and death-defying loops, but the tracks of this thrill ride are not constrained by the limits of the tangible universe. The Marcus Smart Experience can climb 10 stories while dropping 20 stories and still wind up 30 stories higher than where it started. It can plummet at seemingly terminal velocity, and then suddenly have fans floating through the sky as if on a magic carpet; and then suddenly that carpet morphs into an anvil.
For most of these two years the ride has been all things: inspiring, frustrating, painful and euphoric. Smart has been a guy who the Celtics can’t count on moving forward and the one guy that they probably should. He’s been a future All-Star and Celtics captain and an asteroid that will be in pieces before he’s old enough to rent a car. From the second Smart was drafted to supplant Rajon Rondo as the point guard of the future, he also supplanted Rondo as the most polarizing player of the present. There’s no such thing as a moderate opinion on Smart; and, for what it’s worth, he’s done very little to help bridge the gap between ends of the spectrum.
Some nights, like Sunday, he’s on another planet, transcending the limits of human expectation. He does things for his age, size and skill set that he’s not supposed to do and yet because he’s Marcus Smart he’s also somehow maybe supposed to. In Game 4, Smart put up 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals in 42 minutes off the bench with an injured finger and injured ribs. He scored eight points over a 70-second fourth quarter stretch with Boston’s season hanging in the balance. Smart stepped up and shut down Paul Millsap, who has four inches and 30 pounds on him and had temporarily transformed into Karl Malone. He did that after spending a few quarters shutting down Kyle Korver (who had temporarily transformed back into Kyle Korver). The totality of Smart’s performance, especially on this stage, was so dynamic that it wouldn’t be fair to expect it on a consistent basis from anyone not named LeBron or Kawhi or, you know, a future Hall of Famer. Yet with Smart, a performance like that always seems within the realm of possibility. We know he has it in him.
We just don’t understand what’s going on during those other times or why there are still so many of those other times. We don’t understand the embarrassing flops and questionable impulses. Even if we think we do, even if we want to, even if we do our homework it’s hard to really understand Marcus Smart unless you are Marcus Smart. Or at the very least unless you know him far beyond the level of simply reading a few feature stories and watching him run around like crazy on a basketball court. He’s a kid who, at nine years old, watched one older brother and role model die from cancer; who at 10 years old used to stand out on a street corner begging another older brother to quit selling drugs and come home. He’s a kid who once for no good reason threw a rock at a random person on a bike, not realizing the guy was a gang member, and ran away as bullets whizzed past his head. Hell, this is a kid who was in an anger management class by age 12. He’s a kid who by his own estimation used to get in three fights a week. He’s a dude who could have easily been killed a few times until the day something clicked and he turned all that anger, passion and pretty much his entire life towards basketball. And now, still only 22 years old, here he is, still fighting his ass off on a nightly basis, giving up size and strength and pure talent against the biggest, strongest and most talented basketball players in the world.
And that fight’s not over. The fight will never end. The roller coaster will keep moving forward, and backwards, up and down and in some direction that hasn’t even been invented yet. Smart will continue to play with a passion and intensity that can lift an entire team and 18,000 fans to great heights, and also from time to time rear its ugly head in disaster. The Marcus Smart Experience will remain inspiring, frustrating, painful and euphoric.
It will make you crazy and drive you mad.
But as we were reminded on Sunday, it’s all worth it.
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