The things we do for love: load management, Marcus Smart, and Brad Stevens

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Midway through the third quarter of Thursday’s game against the Hornets, Marcus Smart picked up his fifth personal on an offensive foul after hitting Terry Rozier with a forearm shiver on his way to the rim. For Smart, it was all part of the game within the game. While the rest of the team was on cruise control towards a blowout win in Charlotte, Smart spent most of the evening trading body blows with Devonte’ Graham and sparring with the refs.

Smart and the Hornets upstart point guard had engaged in a bull fight. Graham would level Smart, lowering his shoulder before driving into him. Smart would bait him into an offensive foul. After getting whistled for something he was trying to point out on the opposing team, Smart not only lost his patience with the refs, but with Stevens, who Smart thought should have come to his defense.

Time and again, Smart has one of these games. As a member of last year’s All-Defense First Team, he’s earned the recognition and respect as one of the game’s best stoppers, but once in while, he gets critical with the officiating. After getting elbowed to the floor by Miles Bridges, he told the refs, “if it was me, y’all would probably throw me out the game and everything. So you clean it up, or I will.”

After the game, Stevens was in Smart’s corner:

“We’ve been together a long time” Stevens said. “I’ve been yelled at before, and that’s okay. I love him, and I trust him, and he’ll get every opportunity.”

Smart appeared to smooth things over with Stevens in a huddle shortly afterward. While he said he wanted to play through the frustration, he and Stevens have a relationship that can take some strain.

“Me and Brad, that’s our relationship,” Smart said. “We’ve been in it six years, so we have those little moments, and it’s over and over, it’s done with and we move on to the next one.”

Unfortunately, the league wasn’t so forgiving. The NBA fined Smart $15,000 for publicly criticizing them. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay that Smart probably knew was coming out of his paycheck as soon as he said it. However, that fee pays out tenfold as the season progresses. Not only will it force the league to take a stronger look into what Smart’s pointing out, but it also further cements the relationship between Smart and Stevens.

Smart is now the longest tenured player on the roster and there’s a reason for that. Whether he’s starting or playing as the Celtics’ “stretch-6,” he epitomizes everything that Stevens is looking for in a player. To some extent, it’s similar to the recent hubbub over Kawhi Leonard’s load management and how the Clippers are managing the managing. The league felt that sitting Leonard was justified because of his existing knee injury, but fined Los Angeles $50,000 anyway because of Doc Rivers’ inconsistent comments on Leonard’s health. Again, it’s a slap on the wrist that they’ll gladly accept if it means not just maintaining Kawhi’s health, but maybe more importantly, his confidence in the franchise.

For the Celtics, they don’t have to worry about Smart’s health so much. His kamikaze style has jeopardized his availability several times during his career, but for better or for worse, that’s why Stevens loves him and why we love him. If it takes $15K every time Smart wants to fight for himself and the team, I’m sure we’d all gladly chip in.

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