The Boston Celtics' 2022-23 playoff run ended after a seven-game series against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. That this series went to game seven was remarkable in itself. After three games, the Celtics had been outplayed completely and trailed three games to none. The team was going to have to dig deep to make this series competitive, and in the end, they did.
Heading into a potential season-ending game four in Miami, Marcus Smart told the media, “Don’t let us get one.” Despite the odds, Smart’s confidence never faltered, and this was clearly felt by the entire locker room.
That was just the effect that Smart, the heart and soul of the team, had on the Boston Celtics. When times got tough, Smart was always there to revitalize the team, whether it was by diving for a loose ball, taking a charge, or just the natural aura he gave off at all times. He always did whatever he could to give the Celtics their best shot at winning.
Boston took Game 4 and Game 5, leading to a post-game interview where Jaylen Brown told the media, “They let us get two, so don’t let us get another one.”
The Marcus Smart effect was now in full swing, and it was becoming even more contagious.
Back in Miami for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics pulled out a win in one of the craziest endings anyone has ever seen. Trailing 103-102 with three seconds left, Derrick White inbounds the ball to Smart, who is forced into taking a difficult three-pointer that rims out. During this, the unaccounted-for Derrick White was running to the rim, where he put Smart’s miss in at the buzzer, and the Cs won to even the series at three games to three.
It all started with “Don’t let us get one.” The Celtics were now just the fourth team to ever force a game seven after trailing three games to none. Unfortunately, Boston was simply out of gas in Game 7 and was unable to complete the comeback. Regardless, it was an incredible series that made history.
It’s hard to say that anything like that ever happens without Smart.
Heading into the 2023 offseason, the Celtics were expected to make moves. This included a plan to trade a guard, as the backcourt was just too crowded.
Initially, Malcolm Brogdon was moved to the Los Angeles Clippers in a three-team trade that would land the Cs Kristaps Porzingis from the Washington Wizards. That deal then fell through after the Clippers were concerned about the health status of Brogdon.
The Boston Celtics had to muster a new deal with a different third team by midnight, due to the player option in Porzinigis’s contract, if they wanted to land the big man. This is when the Memphis Grizzlies entered the conversation, but they also weren’t interested in Brogdon. They wanted Smart, and Brad Stevens made the move. Smart was sent to Memphis in a deal that brought Porzingis to Boston from the Wizards.
This came as a shock to just about everyone. All of a sudden, an exciting moment turned to sadness as one of the most beloved Celtics of all time was gone.
Jayson Tatum opens up about life without Marcus Smart on the Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics are now nearing the halfway point of their first season without Marcus Smart since 2013-14. During an interview with Hardwood Houdini's Andrew Hughes -- in promotion of the #RufflesRidgelineChallenge ahead of the 2024 Ruffles NBA All-Star Celebrity Game -- Tatum was asked if anyone has stepped into the role that Marcus Smart had on the team.
Tatum got nostalgic, waxing poetic about his beloved former teammate.
“Man, you never can replace somebody like Smart," Tatum said. "He spent 9 years—10 years or so—in Boston, you know? He was my teammate for the first six. Without a doubt, he was the most loved Celtic on the team, right? His passion, his toughness, how hard he played night in and night out. He literally gave everything he had. And just his personality, man. I love Smart to death.”
Celtics fans were concerned about what the team would look like without Smart's passion this season. Tatum solidifies the thought that many had: Smart is an irreplaceable teammate. But to Tatum, Smart was more than just that.
"Still a great friend of mine went to his wedding this summer," Tatum prefaced before saying, "So just on that level, we've been through so much together as friends and teammates that, just on a personal level, you know, we for sure miss him, right? That's always tough when you just spend so much time with somebody and they get traded and move on. That’s never easy.”
Smart was just the type of person that everyone enjoyed being around, on top of being a player you love to play next to.
Winning usually fixes most problems when it comes to professional sports. Boston is currently sitting on top of the Eastern Conference with a 33-10 record, which has helped ease the pain of losing Smart, but again, it’s clear that will never fully go away.
When Smart said, “Don’t let us get one,” and then it led to the Cs almost pulling off the impossible, it was the perfect embodiment of just one of the many things Smart brought to the Boston Celtics organization.
It hasn’t happened yet this season, but when that inevitable prolonged adversity hits, everyone will wish Smart was still in that locker room.