With less than a minute to go into Game 7 on Friday night, the same scenario presented itself. This time, however, Smart made sure there would be a different outcome.
“As soon as Norman caught the ball, I instantly remembered the last game,” Smart said later.
“In my mind, I was just like, ‘He needs to be soaking. I’m not going to make a mistake. I’m just going to meet him upstairs and see who wins this battle. ‘ “
It turned out that Smart’s defense, as it often does, won out this time around. And, as a result, the Celtics won 92-87 and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Smart’s block on Powell with 58.2 seconds left – a game reminiscent of the block chased by LeBron James against Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals – kept Toronto from its best chance to tie the game. score in the dying moments, as the Celtics advanced to the conference final for the third time in four years.
After the Raptors survived close calls in Games 3 and 6, Smart’s blocking proved to be the moment that ultimately saw the defending champions being kicked out of the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World. Resort.
“I bet on myself 110% of the time,” Smart said. “I’m the first total defense team for a reason, and I believe in it wholeheartedly. ”
Smart often drags the attention behind his top-tier teammates in Boston, and that remained the case in Game 7. Jayson Tatum (29 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists) became the second youngest player in history. the NBA to have at least 25 points. , 10 rebounds and 5 assists in a Game 7 – behind only his idol, Kobe Bryant. Jaylen Brown had 21 points and Kemba Walker struggled overall but made a few key plays in the fourth, including free throws 7.9 seconds from the end.
But ask anyone around the Celtics, and it won’t be long before they say it’s Smart – with his tenacity, defense and relentless turmoil – who is the heart and soul of this team. And it was fitting that his game was the one that helped seal Boston’s victory, both in this game and in this series.
“This block was so special,” Walker said. “It was unreal. This is why he is the first total defense team. He shows it night after night. He made so many huge plays tonight. A lot of the things he does go unnoticed.
“But this kid, he’s special, man. He’s on another level at this end of the basketball court. ”
Smart has played a huge role in Raptors star Pascal Siakam’s struggles on the series. He made several saves on Powell in the fourth quarter ahead of his flagship block. And, if it hadn’t been for Toronto’s late return in Game 6, Smart’s first playoff triple-double in that game would have been what would have led Boston to the Eastern Final against Miami. Heat a game earlier.
Still, the Celtics will be just happy to get there, having survived this series brawl against the Raptors, which gave Boston absolutely everything they could handle despite being outmatched for the big one. majority of the series by the team’s own admission.
“Of course,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said when asked if Boston has improved after playing this series against Toronto. “I mean, I’ve coached a lot of playoff games now, a lot of playoffs and a lot of NCAA tournament games. I would say we saw more tusks and more stuff and more… just when something worked, the next piece, it didn’t work anymore, it’s an honor for them.
“We should definitely be toughened up. We should definitely have a lot more in our toolbox to come back. We need to prepare for a different and more unique team now in Miami. ”
The Celtics are also expected to be a different team against the Heat. Injured forward Gordon Hayward, out of Boston’s first round series opener against the Philadelphia 76ers after sustaining a 3rd-year right ankle sprain, is now out of quarantine after returning home for the birth of her fourth child and was working. on the field before the game.
Stevens has said he expects Hayward to return at some point against Miami but doesn’t know when. Monday will mark four weeks since Hayward’s injury – which was the initial deadline for his return. Boston’s v Miami streak kicks off Tuesday night.
The Celtics will play there, in large part, because of Smart’s play on Friday night.
“The commotion, the blocking, the tenacity… he’s an integral part of our team,” Stevens said. “It is an integral part of our organization.
“I said before the playoffs, we have a chance to play [the playoffs] every year he’s been here, and it’s no coincidence. “