To start or not to start Marcus Smart, that is the question

Smart started his first game of the season Monday.

Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart during the second half of a loss against the Nuggets on Nov. 5. –AP Photo/David Zalubowski

BRIGHTON — A solid performance against the New Orleans Pelicans doesn’t mean the Celtics suddenly have things all figured out, coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday at the Auerbach Center.

Boston’s 124-107 win over the Pelicans capped a 2-1 road trip for the C’s, serving as an encouraging stretch for the 11-10 group as it looks to nip perplexing early season woes in the bud. Stevens said the Celtics still “weren’t perfect for 48 minutes,” but he was pleased with aspects of their recent performances — particularly, the tenacity guard Marcus Smart injected into the starting lineup.

“Clearly, it aided us,” Stevens said.

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Against the Pelicans, Smart started his first game of the season alongside Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, and Al Horford. His presence was felt immediately when the feisty 24-year-old had a hand in forcing nearly all of New Orleans’ eight first-quarter turnovers. Although Stevens acknowledged what Smart “brings to the table from an intangible standpoint” is “super important” to the team, he noted that energy is in high demand.

“The problem with starting Marcus Smart is he can’t bring his energy off the bench, right?” Stevens said. “So he’s a valuable guy [starting and coming off the bench] for the same reason. He does all the intangible stuff you need to have success.”

Starting Smart is a tempting offer. Not only will he go out of his way to make every hustle play, but his ability to defend the opposing team’s top point guard takes pressure off Irving, who offered a ringing endorsement of the pairing Monday.

“When he’s playing with me, we play pretty well together at the 1 and 2 spots,” Irving said. “My energy can get depleted coming up and down and directing the ball every single time. Having Marcus in there gave me that outlet to be able to get off the ball.”

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Stevens has a bit of extra time to ruminate on his decision and likely won’t make an announcement until the designated time before tip-off between the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night. One factor in play — for the short-term — is the health of forward Jaylen Brown, who suffered a lower back injury against the Mavericks. Brown did not practice Wednesday, but Stevens said he is “progressing.”

Smart acknowledged a fluctuating starting lineup “can be frustrating for any player,” but he, unsurprisingly, plans on bringing the “same energy” and “same intensity” every time he checks into the game. 

Even if Smart and Morris start, however, one thing’s for certain. 

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Their “Bench With Attitude” nickname isn’t going anywhere.

“We’re still part of that second unit,” Smart said. “That’s still our group, those guys. It’s just you implement it in the first unit.”

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