Key Boston Celtics reserve Marcus Smart played 31 minutes in their Game 1 victory over the Washington Wizards.
Finishing with six points, four assists, three rebounds and three blocks, Smart impacted the game across the box score and with his typical energy and tenacity on the court.
Despite playing a key role in Boston’s epic 17-point comeback, Smart felt like he wasn’t playing well in the fourth quarter, so he something pretty surprising: pulled himself from the game.
"I just decided to take myself out. Things were going wrong and I was making a couple mistakes," Smart told reporters on Monday from Boston's practice facility. "Everyone else was playing good, so I decided to take myself out and let those guys keep going, and really calm myself down and get ready to go back into the game to finish the game.”
Within the first couple minutes of the fourth quarter, Smart struggled on multiple possessions and committed two fouls and two turnovers. That’s probably what he was referring to by “mistakes” in the quote above.
He spent less than a minute on the bench before coach Brad Stevens checked him back into the game, by the way.
While some Celtics fans and perhaps some members of the team might look down upon Smart taking himself out of the game, he rationalized his thinking very clearly.
"Some people probably think it was a little selfish of me. They'd think I was really mad at myself. But it really wasn't," said Smart. "I just felt like, at that moment, we were up and my plays with the two turnovers back-to-back and the two fouls, fouling a 3-point shooter -- something we all know you're not supposed to do, especially then he gets the and-1 that gets them rhythm and they keep going -- I just felt like at that time for me and my team I wasn't really doing anything to help.”
He doubled-down on the remarks, continuing, "So those guys, everybody else was in there playing. It wouldn't be fair for them and to this team for me to keep going and not give guys who've been playing well and things like that to just keep going and allowing myself to keep making mistakes. So I think it's from a maturity standpoint. Other people might look at it differently.”
He even went so far as to call it “selfless”, the opposite of “selfish”, which is how some people might have internalized it initially.
"I think that was a selfless act to be able to understand, obviously, right now things aren't going well for you, but this guy, he's been playing really well. So why should he come out when he's playing really well and not you? So I decided to take myself out," he explained.
Nonetheless, there doesn’t seem to be any bad blood between Smart and his teammates or the coaching staff as a result, which is a positive, since he will likely be tasked with playing 30-plus minutes in Game 2.
Since the Celtics employed a small-ball lineup for much of Game 1 and starter Gerald Green played just seven minutes without scoring a point, it remains to be seen whether or not Stevens will place Smart in the starting lineup in Tuesday night’s contest.
If he struggles again down the stretch, all eyes will be on whether Smart decides to pull himself from the game yet again.