Raptors' Lowry: Marcus Smart 'really coming into his own' in NBA

Raptors' Lowry: Marcus Smart 'really coming into his own' in NBA

BOSTON – Tonight’s game between Boston and Toronto is full of must-see matchups, some pitting established stars like Kyle Lowry up against on-the-rise talent like Marcus Smart.

Lowry has established himself as an All-Star in this league, but it didn’t happen overnight or for that matter, early in his career.

And that should give hope to the Celtics regarding Smart whose statistics in his first three NBA seasons are as good or better than most of Lowry’s stats up to that point in his career.

Smart has 45 games left in this season and he’s already played 162 games compared to Lowry who played a total of 169 games in his first three years in the league.

Smart has the higher scoring average, rebounding average, minutes played per game while most of their shooting numbers are comparable to one another.

Not surprisingly, Lowry likes what he has seen out of Smart who will get the starting nod tonight in place of Avery Bradley who is still on the mend with a right Achilles strain injury.

Filling in for Bradley in Boston’s 117-108 win over New Orleans, Smart delivered a very Bradley-like performance with a season-high 22 points against the Pelicans.

“I think he’s really coming into his own, figuring out … he’s going to make his niche being a hell of a defender,” Lowry told CSN’s Abby Chin. “He’s a guy who can defend multiple positions, one (point guard), two (shooting guard) and three (small forward). He’s getting more comfortable with that. He’s finding his jump-shot in rhythm.”

For Lowry, his career didn’t begin to shift into another gear until the 2010-2011 season with the Houston Rockets. 

A role player up to that point, the Rockets made him their starting point guard where he averaged a then-career high 13.5 points per game with a career-high 71 starts. 

“My niche when I first came into the league was to be energy and play hard, just figure it out,” Lowry said. “Once I got older and got in a situation where I had to be more offensive-minded, that helped propel me to understanding the game, watching more film and the game slows down a bit. I think this is his 3rd year? He hasn’t had to be in a situation where he’s had to be the lead guy. He’s always been on a team and in a situation where guys have been ahead of him. Now when he gets an opportunity to be that guy, the game will slow down for him.”

That appears to be happening now.

Even though there’s a clear pecking order of players ahead of Smart on the Celtics roster, there’s no denying how his game has evolved to a point where questions about whether he’s a point guard no longer linger.

And Smart has embraced the fact that he doesn’t fit neatly at any specific position on the floor.

“I’m a basketball player; that’s how I see myself,” Smart told CSNNE.com. “Whatever coach (Brad Stevens) needs me to do, I’ll do. It doesn’t matter to me. I just want to help us win games; that’s all.”

No lineup changes for either Bulls or Celtics in Game 4

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No lineup changes for either Bulls or Celtics in Game 4

CHICAGO -- It's a given the Chicago Bulls will make some adjustments heading into tonight's Game 4 matchup against the Boston Celtics, but a tweak to the starting lineup won't be one of them.
 
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg confirmed that his starting lineup will be the same as it was in Game 3, with Jerian Grant filling in at point guard in place of the injured Rajon Rondo.
 
In Boston's 104-87 Game 3 victory, Grant had six points on 2-for-5 shooting with zero assists and four turnovers. His struggles prompted many to assume Hoiberg would seriously consider making a lineup change.
 
"Jerian has some experience. We had a long film session yesterday," Hoiberg said. "Had a good session on the floor."
 
Hoiberg added: "Jerian has been the guy that has filled in for us starting when things have happened for us this year. The biggest thing obviously, is we have to get out to a good start."
 
Boston began Game 3 with a 14-4 run and closed out the first quarter with a decisive 33-15 lead. For the last three quarters of play, it was a relatively even-played game.
 
"We'll give him the start and see how things go," Stevens said.
 
The Celtics will also stick to their Game 3 starting lineup, which included a backcourt of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, with Gerald Green, Jae Crowder and Al Horford in the frontcourt.
 
Green, who had eight points in his first start of the season, was inserted to help better space the floor for himself as well as his teammates.
 
The move worked as well as the Celtics could have expected, as they drained 17 3-pointers, the second-most in playoff franchise history, and the most 3-point makes by any team in the playoffs this year.
 
But Celtics coach Brad Stevens knows his team still has ground to make up in this series, one in which they trail 2-1.
 
"They're still up 2-1 and that [Game 3] could have gone either way," Stevens said. "We played well in the first [quarter] and well in the third. But they've given us a lot of fits. We're going to have to play better today to win; our guys know that. Guys are engaged, ready from a preparation standpoint."
 
 

Beyond The Numbers: C's need to get better on the boards in second quarter

Beyond The Numbers: C's need to get better on the boards in second quarter

CHICAGO -- Following Boston's Game 3 win on Friday against the Chicago Bulls, Brad Stevens was pleased with his team's performance but cautious about feeling too good.
 
"Gotta play better in Game 4," Stevens said at the time.
 
It's Coach Speak 101 to talk about the need to improve following a victory in the playoffs.
 
But Stevens is spot-on when he talks about his team needing to make on-the-fly improvements if it is to prevail again tonight in Game 4.
 
There are many areas that have been problematic for the Celtics in this series, but none as consistently worrisome as the way they've struggled in the second quarter in all three playoff games.
 
In the second quarter the Celtics have been outscored 74-49, or by 8.3 points per game.
 
Stevens recognized this going into Game 3, which was, in part, why Isaiah Thomas was subbed out after about six or so minutes in the first quarter, and returned to play all but 24 seconds of the second.
 
Good strategy, right?
 
In theory, it made a lot of sense. Thomas is your best scorer. Points have been harder to come by in the second quarter. Put Thomas on the floor in the second and . . . point-a-palooza right?
 
Nope.
 
In fact, Boston actually had its worst second quarter of the series in Game 3.
 
The Celtics shot just 22.7 percent from the field (5-for-22) in the second quarter after having shot 34.8 and 35.0 percent, respectively, in the second quarters of Games 1 and 2.
 
But Boston struggling to score in the second quarter isn't unusual.
 
During the regular season, the Celtics ranked among the NBA's top-scoring teams in the first (12th), third (7th) and fourth (1st) quarters of games.
 
But in the second, they were in the bottom 10 (23rd) with a 25.7 points-per-game scoring average.
 
The knee-jerk reaction is to put the blame on the bench players, who typically see most of their playing time in the second quarter. But as we saw in Game 3, with Thomas out there for most of the second, problems still arise before halftime.
 
What's at the heart of their second-quarter struggles?
 
The same thing that has been an issue for Boston all season: Rebounding.
 
It's been troubling for Boston all season, but those struggles have become magnified in the second quarter of this series.
 
For the series, Boston has been outrebounded by 12.3 boards per game. And with many of those rebounds being on the offensive end, it forces the Celtics' defense to play longer than it should due to Chicago getting multiple cracks at scoring. And the Bulls aren't giving up many offensive boards, which puts an even greater premium on Boston making shots since the likelihood of getting a second or third chance at scoring is unlikely.
 
And the massive rebounding advantage has centered around Chicago's ability to dominate the boards in the second quarter.
 
If you take away the rebounding numbers in the second quarter of this series, the Celtics are grabbing just 4.3 less rebounds per game than the Bulls, which is a palatable gap for Boston to have and still be successful.
 
So an improved effort on the glass in the second quarter is exactly what the Celtics to rid themselves of what has been a first-rate problem thus far in this series.