Smart leaves the champion shivering

The Celtics player did everything, exploded from the triple in the fourth quarter and led his team to 2-0. The Raptors, against the ropes.


"We have a tough, committed and united team. If they beat us, it is because they have been better, not because of anything else." They were the words of Brad Stevens in the preview of the second game of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The one the Celtics faced in a similar situation to last year, when they started beating the Bucks in the same round. That is precisely why Stevens was asked at a press conference, a year after passing, as now, the first round with a sweep and starting the second with victory. The end of the 2018-19 history is well known and Stevens's message, that we are tough, competitive and united, is a clear reference to how Boston is this year ... and how they were back then.

Of course, now the Celtics once again look like the united and competitive team that reached the 2018 Eastern Finals in a way that was as unexpected as it was deserved. Maybe it was Kyrie's thing that bump in the road of a project that sees the ring at the end of the tunnel, even though they are never among the clear favorites to the title at the beginning of the season. The city of Boston hasn't seen the ring since 2008 and hasn't reached a Finals since 2010, but now they seem mature enough to take down the ghosts of the past, be it Kyrie or LeBron and their eternal (and eternal) shadow and redeem themselves from that course in which, in the words of an intellectual like Jaylen Brown, they were not prepared "for so much circus" .

The maker Stevens and the executor Smart

Tonight's win over the champion was built around two men: Brad Stevens and Marcus Smart. The former has once again won the tactical battle against another genius like Nick Nurse and leaves with two consecutive victories that without coronavirus would have been (or would not have been) in Canada. The absence of that field advantage leaves the Raptors with a chance, who had a 12-point lead in the third quarter that they let slip against a Celtics who never faltered. Therein lies the merit of a Stevens who continues to demonstrate that he has infinite resources in his privileged brain, also confirming that last year surpassed him on a social level (and at Kyrie level) and not in the tactical aspect, where he has shown much more than his rival on the bench of those semifinals, today (and almost always) questioned: Mike Budenholzer. Stevens prevents some Raptors from running who have found more answers than in the first meeting but have left with more doubts, he has a squad in which any player is capable of stopping any rival, lets them do the clutch time and develops on the track a collaborative attack and defense packed with changes in which it exploits the few weaknesses of the rival.

The second protagonist is Marcus Smart. And it would be unfair to say that it is only from this meeting. The point guard is a reference in the franchise, one of the authorized voices in the locker room and a leader on and off the court. Tonight he has gone to 19 points, 16 of them in the last period thanks to 5 consecutive triples (the last of them with a foul included) that have dynamited a game that the Raptors commanded. He is the voice of reason, the one who asks his teammates to calm down and speaks in time-outs, in addition to defending in a brutal way and being a very firm slab that not even Pascal Siakam moves on the post. He has been the one who has led the final quarter of a Celtics that remained in the first half before going to tow in the third quarter. In the last, 32-21, with problems for the Canadians and a Nick Nurse who had Anubony, with 20 points, as the top scorer, a clear symptom in a team in which VanVleet (19) went from more to less and finished with 3 of 12 in triples and Lowry was 16 with 0 of 7. And Siakam, in 17, attacking more the rim at the beginning but without finding answers in the hot moments of meeting, always with Smart (of course), in front.

What VanVleet and Lowry did not do Kemba Walker did (17 + 6 + 4), put them at the end despite not being successful. That lower-quality, more headed substitute for Kyrie was the one who hit a jump shot that gave his team a three-minute lead in the final minute. The Celtics held out until the end and VanVleet's desperate shot, with Nurse without timeouts, ended up certifying the green victory. Jaylen Brown went to 16 points and Theis, who played the key minutes as a pivot, to 3 + 9. With good minutes from Robert Williams III (11 + 4), who with his 2.27 wingspan gives the feeling of being everywhere. Oh, and Tatum's 34 points (+ 8 + 6), a career high in the playoffs. Little more to add and a lot to do for Nurse, who still has another stake and a chance, probably the last (he has never come back from 3-0), to get into the series. Trouble for the champion. And a lot of credit to the Celtics, with Stevens at the helm and Marcus Smart as a genius and figure.

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