After he left his mark on the Celtics, Boston repays the favor to Marcus Smart

It didn’t take long for Sunday’s showdown on the parquet floor between the Celtics and Grizzlies to become an afterthought.

As Boston’s bench toyed with a decimated Memphis roster in the closing minutes of Sunday’s 131-91 victory, an already riled-up Celtics crowd shifted its focus.

Marcus Smart didn’t log a minute of action on the court Sunday, with an injured finger keeping the Grizzlies guard on the bench.

And a Celtics fan base that quickly embraced Smart’s propensity for welcoming welts in pursuit of loose balls and momentum-shifting charging fouls made sure his efforts were appreciated.

“Thank you, Marcus!” cheers rained down from the upper sections of TD Garden as Sunday’s game reached its end — the latest in a long line of tributes for a scrappy guard who left an indissoluble mark on the Celtics for close to a decade.

“We all know playing in this city isn’t the easiest. And there’s plenty of times where they let us know about it, especially me. But everything is always great here and I speak for everybody — opposing teams and guys who have played here — that [there’s] nothing like playing in this place and playing in this city. And with these fans … They allowed me to grow. They allowed me to see a different side of myself, and they watched me become a man. So my favorite things will always be here, but they definitely have shaped my life in more ways than one.”

It should come as little surprise that a player with Smart’s makeup became beloved in Boston.

In a city that has long welcomed grit and scrappy play over the panache engrained in other basketball franchises, Smart served as a refreshing breath of fresh air.

For Celtics fans of yesteryear who grew up reviling the “Showtime” Lakers, Smart served as the latest incarnation of the players found on those tenacious Celtics squads.

For the younger generation, Smart was the type of pugnacious pest that was easy to root for, given his knack for driving opposing players — and fans — crazy with his suffocating defense and shifty play.

Smart’s approach whenever he stepped on the court was more than just an easy avenue toward becoming a fan favorite in Boston. For Al Horford, it was an infectious attitude that made his Celtics teammates quickly follow suit.

“My time with Marcus here was very special,” Horford said postgame. “And I’ve said this before, but one of the reasons why I came here originally in 2016 was Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart. I had a lot of respect for Smart, even when he was a very young player, and how he cared about winning.”

“It was an incredible moment,” Tatum said. “What he meant to the team, what he meant to the organization, what he meant to the city. He was loved. He was obviously a fan favorite. … Everybody knew that. The way he played, he wore his heart on his sleeve and every night he gave it his all. We have some very smart fans, and they saw that. And they appreciated that.”

Smart and the Celtics achieved plenty of success together over the years, punching their ticket to the East Finals in five of his nine seasons with the team. The same year he took home Defensive Player of the Year honors, Boston made it all the way to the NBA Finals.

But Boston’s inability to finally get over the hump and raise that coveted 18th banner prompted Brad Stevens and the Celtics to deal Smart last June in a blockbuster swap that brought Kristaps Porzingis to Boston.

 

 

Gideon Canice

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