Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
As the Celtics were putting the finishing touches on one of the greatest comeback wins in franchise history, Smart’s fingerprints were all over the final chapter. The essence of the dramatic night in December was the scene of Smart on the floor shaking his hands in triumph after drawing the first of two offensive fouls on Harden in a span of 7.3 seconds as the Celtics capped a 26-point rally in a 99-98 triumph.
The defensive stopper said he is looking forward to all eyes being on the matchup once again Saturday night when he returns to his home state of Texas, where the Celtics will face Harden and the Western Conference-leading Houston Rockets in ABC’s Saturday Night Primetime game.
“I love it,” Smart said following Thursday’s short practice. “It’s an opportunity to challenge myself on the defensive end. Each and every day, I’m up for those challenges. My teammates, and this coaching staff, support me. They give me the confidence to have the ability to do that.”
Smart played it at an elite level on Dec. 28 as he helped hold Harden, who is averaging an NBA-leading 31.3 points per game, to 7-for-27 shooting with eight turnovers. Harden was 0-for-7 on possessions when Smart was guarding him.
“You just try to wear him down,” Smart said. “Stay on him and make every shot that he takes tough. He’s going to make some tough shots. But he’s not going to make enough.”
Providence Journal: Smart’s mission against Rockets? Stop Harden
The Marcus Smart-James Harden rematch was a hot topic at yesterday’s Celtics practice. The Cs will be in Houston tomorrow night, and certainly the Rockets will remember how they were humiliated in Boston. Harden – who’s definitely winning the MVP this season – will be out for blood.
Besides that, the Rockets are white hot with 14 straight wins; they will have Chris Paul in uniform (he missed the loss at the Garden); and the game will be nationally televised on ABC. The Celts better bring it or they’ll be embarrassed like they were in their last appearance on ABC (Paul Pierce Day).
Fortunately, Smart’s hand healed up in time so he wouldn’t miss this one. No one actually stops Harden, but Marcus has probably had more success than most. According to Basketball Reference, they have gone head-to-head seven times. Smart’s defense has helped hold Harden to 35.0% shooting, compared to his career mark of 44.3%. Harden also averaged 6.1 turnovers in those seven games, well above the 3.4 for his career.
In the last four of those meetings, Harden scored 32, 37, 30 and 34, and was a ridiculous 62 of 67 at the foul line. Yet the Cs won two of those (and nearly a third, see below) as Harden shot only 38.4% and committed 31 turnovers.
Remember, too, that Harden’s pair of offensive fouls wasn’t the only time Smart has punked him. In last season’s meeting in Houston, Marcus nearly created a miracle win when he goaded The Beard into a flagrant foul (an elbow to the face that Smart willingly absorbed because that’s what he does). The Cs ultimately lost by a single point when Al Horford missed a layup at the buzzer, but it foreshadowed what Smart did to Harden in December.
Per NBA.com, the Rockets are second overall in offensive rating (113.3) while the Celtics are No. 1 in defensive rating (101.1). We might be in for another memorable night.
Related – NBC Sports Boston: Smart’s smarts come into play on D
On Page 2: Kyrie. On. Fire.
Already this week, Chuck wrote about Kyrie’s greatness this season, and Ben opined on how much fun it is to live in Kyrie’s world. But since the man is ON FIRE, why stop there? Here’s some cool stuff about Kyrie that came out yesterday.
“He’s very locked in,” Stevens said. “He went into the break hurting a little bit for how we played. I think that that was a feeling shared by all of us, on how our team performed on the last few days leading up to the break, and I thought that he hopefully had time to relax and kind of get away for a minute. But clearly when we came back on Wednesday, we were ready to go, and he was as locked in as anybody.”
Locked in? It sure looks that way. Since the All-Star break, Irving has averaged 27.0 points, 6.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds on 58.2/54.3/91.7 shooting splits, despite sitting out a couple of fourth quarters during that span. Recently, he has launched 3-pointers like never before, a promising trend that could represent a critical step in his career. He has been putting on a nightly show.
Related – CBS Boston: Kyrie Irving Just Keeps Getting Better And Better For Celtics
And, finally… From the Gahden to Hahvahd
Two long lines were formed behind microphones in the aisles of Longfellow Hall, and the 21-year-old Celtic, seated in front of the crimson banner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, made his compelling case for why the “shut up and dribble” side of American sports should be shut up.
But he went much deeper than that, talking especially about how education has left people — some of them his friends — behind.
He talked about the “push-back” that hits athletes like LeBron James for speaking plainly.
Last night’s moderator, associate professor Jal Mehta, raised the issue that seems to bother many sports fans: Are you an athlete or an intellectual?
Brown doesn’t believe he has to choose.
Fans like to joke about “President Stevens,” but maybe we are nominating the wrong candidate. All kidding aside, this young man is no doubt a future leader. Imagine the possibilities.
Related – The Harvard Crimson: Celtics’ Jaylen Brown Talks Self-Identity, Social Empowerment at Harvard | MassLive: Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown continues to make learning cool, gives speech at Harvard on education, societal issues
The Rest of the Links:
Boston Business Journal: Exxon Mobil signs marketing deal with Celtics