Celtics vs. Pistons takeaways: Marcus Smart shows what C’s have been missing

February 16, 2023 in Sports

The banged-up Boston Celtics rolled into the All-Star break with a bounce-back win over the Detroit Pistons.

Jaylen Brown (facial fracture) remained out while Robert Williams (left ankle soreness) sat out the second night of a back-to-back. The C’s also were without newcomer Mike Muscala (right ankle injury management) on Wednesday night.

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The good news is Jayson Tatum (non-Covid illness) returned along with Al Horford (knee soreness) and Marcus Smart, who missed the previous 11 games with a sprained ankle. Those reinforcements helped the Celtics finish off the first half of the campaign with a 127-109 victory.

Boston heads into the break with a league-best 42-17 record and will return to action on Feb. 23 against the Indiana Pacers. Here are our takeaways from Wednesday’s win over the Pistons.

Marcus Smart makes winning plays in return
The Celtics held their heads above water without Smart, going 6-5 while the reigning Defensive Player of the Year missed time with an ankle sprain. On Wednesday, though, Smart showed what the C’s had been missing with him out of the lineup.

Smart immediately made his presence felt in his return from injury. To start the first quarter, he notched a steal before pushing the ball up the floor and dishing an assist to Tatum. That was the start of a tremendous first half as Smart went tallied five points, four assists, four rebounds, and four steals in the first 24 minutes of action.

The four steals tied his career-high for the first half. His career-high for steals in a game is eight.

Smart kept it going in the second half to finish with nine points, seven rebounds, six assists, and six steals in 29 minutes. It’s only the 15th time this season a player has logged at least five points, five assists, five rebounds and five steals in a game, per Jay King of The Athletic.

The Celtics can hold their own with Smart out, but there’s no doubt they reach another level on both ends of the court when he’s in the lineup.

Jayson Tatum gives All-Star Weekend preview
It sure looks like Tatum is ready to put on a show in Salt Lake City.

In Boston’s final game before the break, Tatum provided a glimpse of what to expect when he heads to Utah for his fourth All-Star Game. The 24-year-old returned to the court after missing Tuesday’s game due to a non-COVID illness and led the C’s to victory with a game-high 38 points.

Tatum scored 24 of those points in the third quarter. After missing his first few 3-point attempts, Tatum caught fire and finished the game 6-for-10 from beyond the arc.

Tatum will start in the All-Star Game and participate in the 3-point contest. If Wednesday’s performance was a harbinger of what’s to come next weekend… well, get your popcorn ready.

Malcolm Brogdon shows why he’s the Sixth Man of the Year favorite
What a way for Malcolm Brogdon to finish the first half of his inaugural Celtics season.

After a strong 26-point performance vs. Milwaukee, Brogdon doubled down with 25 points to propel the C’s to victory over Detroit. He collected 18 of those points in the first two frames, shooting 7-for-8 from the floor and drilling all four of his 3-point attempts.

Brogdon added six assists to his stat line to mark the first time this season he’s notched 25-plus points and 5-plus assists in a game. He also to became the first player since Isaiah Thomas in 2015 to score 25 or more points off the bench in consecutive games.

Brogdon has averaged 14.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 50 games played this season. At this point, it’s hard to argue against the Celtics’ trade to acquire him from Indiana being the best move of the NBA offseason.

A much-needed break
The All-Star break couldn’t have come for a better time for the Celtics, whose injury reports have been longer than they’d like over the last week or so.

Derrick White — who has been on a tear over his last six games — summed it up in a humorous moment Wednesday night. The C’s guard, playing through a ruptured eardrum suffered in Tuesday’s overtime loss to Milwaukee, bloodied his lip during the win over Detroit. He was seen on the broadcast saying, “One more game.”

The Celtics should be close to full strength when they return to play on Feb. 23. A masked Jaylen Brown is expected to return from the facial fracture that forced him to miss the final three games of the first half. Smart appears to have recovered fully from his ankle injury. Brogdon and Robert Williams will have time to recover from achilles and ankle soreness, respectively.

With the Bucks only a half-game behind in the Eastern Conference standings, Boston will need all the help it can get when play resumes.