It was perhaps the most important play of the Celtics’ season. Would you have expected anybody but Marcus Smart to be involved?
Too many times during the seven-game series the Raptors had found a way to eclipse the Celtics’ talent with key down-the-stretch moments. As the clock approached one minute to go in Game 7 it appeared as though that dynamic was shaping up yet again.
With just more than 60 seconds remaining in one of the team’s seasons, Jayson Tatum drove to the hoop looking to build on the Celts’ two-point lead. Instead the lay-in went astray, landing in the hands of Pascal Siakam.
The Raptors’ forward immediately kicked the ball up to Norman Powell and it would have appeared Toronto was on their way once again. They forgot about Smart.
The Celtics’ guard had been drifting around the three-point line when Toronto broke out, almost immediately putting him into an awkward backpedal. But right at the top of the key, just as it became clear Powell’s intensions were to drive hard to the left side of the rim, Smart did his Smart thing.
The former first-round pick who had already left his impression on so many parts of the elimination game, fired himself out of a rocket, propelling himself into the air at the exact same time Powell left his feet. The result would be a clean block, a completely different dynamic heading into the final minute and ultimately a Game 7 win for the Celtics.
The grit was one thing. The guile was another.
Smart drew on the last time such an instance arose, when Norman sealed the Raptors’ Game 6 win in double-overtime with an and-one coming on a similar drive.
"As soon as Norman caught the ball, instantly I remembered last game," Smart said later. "In my mind I was just telling myself, 'He has to dunk it. I'm not gonna give no foul. I'm just gonna meet him up top and see who wins that battle.'"
Later Smart simplified it.
"I bet on myself 110% of the time," Smart said. "I'm first-team all-defense for a reason, and I believe in that wholeheartedly."
He's not alone.
"The hustle, the block, the toughness," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "(Smart) is a huge part of our team," Stevens said. "He's a huge part of our organization.
"I said this before the playoffs, we've got a chance to play in [the playoffs] every year he's been here, and it's not a coincidence."