Marcus Smart's steals take center stage as he makes key play, joins exclusive club


Fittingly, on the night that Marcus Smart became the fourth Celtic ever to reach 900 career steals, he also made the key steal late in the game that killed the Trail Blazers' comeback bid and helped seal a 126-112 win for Boston in Portland.

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Smart got steal No. 900 earlier in the game, joining Paul Pierce (1,583), Larry Bird (1,556) and Rajon Rondo (990) as the only other C's to accomplish the feat in a Boston uniform.

It was steal No. 903, Smart's fourth of the game, that was arguably the biggest play of the night, though.

The Blazers had cut a 20-point Celtics fourth-quarter lead down to eight thanks to 25 fourth-quarter points from Damian Lillard, who almost singlehandedly got Portland back in the game.

Lillard had the ball in his hands and a chance to shrink the deficit even more with 2:17 to go, but that's when Smart stepped up defensively and swiped the ball out of Lillard's hands, leading to a Jaylen Brown dunk at the other end that pushed the Celtics' lead to 10.

A missed Lillard three on the next possession followed by a made Al Horford three pushed it to 13 and ended any hope Portland may have had.

Aside from the steals, it was a good bounce-back game for Smart overall. He also had 15 points and six assists, and most importantly, he was efficient offensively. Smart was 5-of-8 from the field and 3-of-6 from three, which was definitely needed for a player who had been shooting just 36.1% from the field in 11 games since the All-Star break.

The Celtics needed Smart to step up, too, as they were down two guards with Malcolm Brogdon (right Achilles soreness) and Payton Pritchard (left heel pain) out.

Smart himself had been listed as questionable with a non-Covid illness, and he revealed to MassLive that he had thrown up earlier Friday. He was able to go, though, and wound up playing 36 minutes, one shy of Brown for the team lead.

With some talk recently about which guards should be starting for the Celtics -- and perhaps more importantly, which should be closing games -- Smart getting back on track would help coach Joe Mazzulla remain confident that he can count on Smart in key minutes.

Friday night was a step in the right direction, with Smart showing the value he can bring in late-game situations when he's at his best. Now we'll see if he can build off that, either Saturday night in Utah or, if he gets the night off on the back-to-back, Tuesday night in Sacramento.

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