If Marcus Smart does his thing, the Celtics will be fine

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The stage is set for the Celtics in a do-or-die game six of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and while the spotlight will shine brightest on stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, point guard Marcus Smart needs to prepare for his share of its often harsh glare after being outplayed by Bucks guard Jrue Holiday in the dwindling seconds of Game 5.

Smart can’t be solely blamed for the 110-107 stunner in Boston Wednesday, but with just six seconds left on the clock in a one-score game, he slumped back into an old habit of putting the game on his shoulders, putting his head down, and missing a wide open Jayson Tatum. Holiday took advantage and picked his pocket, plunging the dagger into the parquet.

For the Celtics to continue their playoff run, they’ll need their unusual point guard to embrace his role – and it’s not as a leading man.

And that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with being a character actor. Ask J.K. Simmons or Adrien Brody. They’ve got more acting Oscars than Matt Damon or Ben Affleck.

His shot choice can be polarizing at times, but Smart’s basketball talent can’t be discredited. In his first year as starting point guard he earned the first Defensive Player of the Year awarded to a guard since Gary Payton in 1996 – a prestigious decoration previously awarded to just four other guards including Michael Jordan.

Brad Stevens left many Smart critics scratching their heads last August after extending him to max: $77 million over 4 years, including $21.33 in the 2025-26 season. Smart had suffered a frustrating lower calf injury in the middle of the previous season and his stat lines had started to teeter. With Kemba Walker out the door, his future as the team’s starting point guard was not an obvious choice to those outside the building.

But averaging 12.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and – perhaps most critically – 5.9 assists in the regular season, Smart ascended to true primary point status on a playoff-bound team.

Smart’s at his best when his head’s up, he’s directing traffic, and he’s creating. Beyond his obvious defensive acumen, he’s shown off his capabilities as an elite assister, dishing the ball behind his back to gifted finishers like Tatum and Brown. He’s improved in his shot selection from his years on Brad’s old bridge Celtics.

Hell, he was having a great game until those final moments on Wednesday: he shot 3-for-5 from the 3-point line and took his time to survey the court before stepping to the side to sink wide-open jumpers.

Smart ran into trouble when he lost sight of his role – an issue that’s always led this team down the wrong road and ends with them stuck in a traffic-jammed rotary where they awkwardly veer into each others’ lanes, going nowhere and getting carsick.

If he wants to eventually bring home the big trophy with his team, he’ll need to keep it between the lines while maintaining the energy and intensity that’s fueled his success in Celtics green. He just needs to keep himself from looking like Edward Norton starring in a $150 million Hulk movie.