BOSTON — Marcus Smart’s reputation suggests a player that’s a defensive bulldog but an offensive liability. There are many who see only his woeful career shooting numbers and dismiss him as a player capable of impacting the game on only one end of the floor.
And while Smart’s on/off splits revealed a negative differential in offensive rating the past two seasons, a new trend has emerged this season: The Boston Celtics are, maybe surprisingly, a better offensive team when Smart is on the floor.
Smart didn’t just put up a team-high 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting on Friday night, he gave a lifeless Celtics team an unexpected offensive jolt when it had previously been colder than the single-digit temperatures outside TD Garden.
Combined with Kyrie Irving flirting with a triple-double (16 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) and 14 points from fellow bench-mobber Terry Rozier, Smart and the Celtics rallied for a 91-84 triumph over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves.
Inserted with just less than five minutes to play in the third quarter — and right after the Celtics, who had been shooting 33 percent to that point, were whistled for a mind-numbing 24-second violation after over-passing the ball around the perimeter — Smart played the next 12 minutes of game action and the Celtics outscored the Timberwolves by 16 in that span.
Smart scored eight of Boston’s 37 points in a span in which the team shot 57.7 percent from the floor. In typical Smart fashion, he was everywhere. He relentlessly crashed the glass (grabbing two offensive rebounds) and made sure the ball kept moving to the open man. Even when Smart went to the bench with Boston up 85-76 with little more than four minutes to go, coach Brad Stevens gave him just a short break before putting him right back on the floor to help Boston seal the win. Smart finished with a game-high plus-minus of plus-17.
This season, the Celtics own an offensive rating of 106.7 when Smart is on the court. That number dives to 102.9 when he’s on the bench.
Smart’s efforts helped the Celtics spoil a monster night from Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns, who put up 25 points and 23 rebounds over 42 minutes. Despite Towns’ big night, Boston outscored Minnesota 50-24 in the paint.
Both teams shot the ball poorly in the first half, combining to shoot 36 percent overall. Al Horford limped off the court late in the first half, but returned with a protective sleeve and helped Boston rally from as much as seven down in the second half.
The Celtics (32-10) have now won five straight and have a three-game lead over their nearest Eastern Conference competition (Toronto, 26-10 entering Friday night).
Boston plays the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday in Brooklyn and then its schedule eases a bit as the team travels to London for a game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.