6 takeaways as Celtics blow out Grizzlies in Marcus Smart’s return

Celtics

“Boston is definitely a second home for me,” Smart said.

Grizzlies guard Marcus Smart talked with Jayson Tatum after the game. Danielle Parhizkaran/Globe Staff

The Celtics bounced back from their loss to the short-handed Lakers with a blowout 131-91 victory over the short-handed Grizzlies on Sunday.

Here are the takeaways. 

1. The biggest story, of course, was not a 40-point drubbing of a catastrophically undermanned Grizzlies team (which we will get to in a minute), but rather one of the players sitting on their bench: Former Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who is out for at least another month with a finger injury but still made his TD Garden return and was given a lengthy tribute video and a huge standing ovation. Throughout the evening, fans chanted things like “Thank you, Marcus” and “We want Marcus” (which wasn’t possible due to the NBA’s rules about injury designations and also Smart’s presumably expensive bench attire, but was a nice sentiment nonetheless).

Smart told reporters before the game that while he still wished the organization had given him a little bit of a heads up that he might be dealt, he appreciates the front office and especially the city. 

“Boston is definitely a second home for me,” Smart said. “I could go on all day about everything I’ve experienced here, but just the way Boston took me in. We all know playing in this city isn’t the easiest and there’s plenty of times they let us know about it, especially me. … They allowed me to grow. They allowed me to see a different side of myself, and they watched me become a man. So my favorite things will always be here, but they definitely have shaped my life in more ways than one.”

Smart’s teammates were touched by the tribute. 

“He was the fan favorite and everybody knew that,” Tatum said. “The way he played, he wore his heart on his sleeve and every night, he gave it his all. We have some very smart fans, right, and they saw that and they appreciated that. So, it was just really cool to see. I’m happy for him. I’m surprised he didn’t cry because that was special.”

Smart was not a perfect basketball player, but he was a good one who contributed enormously to winning basketball. The Celtics never missed the playoffs during his tenure with the team, and he became the first guard in more than two decades to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2021-22. Based purely on his on-court contributions, he deserved a tribute video.

But what spoke volumes on Sunday was that the Celtics didn’t just stop with a tribute video. They also named Smart the team’s “Hero Among Us” for Sunday’s game, which honors a person who made an impact on the community. 

As noted by the Celtics in a press release: 

  • Smart spent his first day as a Celtic visiting children battling pediatric cancer and other illnesses in 2014. 
  • He visited Boston Children’s Hospital regularly to hang out with kids undergoing cancer treatments. He donated mobile charging stations with tablets and video game consoles (called “Smart Carts”) for patients.
  • He launched his YounGameChanger Foundation in 2017. YGC provided support for inner-city student athletes, in addition to inspiration for pediatric cancerpatients and their families. 

Marcus Smart deserved every bit of his evening on Sunday. The Celtics were lucky to have him on the roster for nearly 10 years, but never more lucky than the city of Boston was to have him living in it. 

2. As for the game itself? If you thought the Lakers’ roster without LeBron James and Anthony Davis was low on talent, take a look at the list of players who were absent from Sunday’s win. 

The Celtics, of course, were without Jaylen Brown (which you can see at the bottom of the graphic), but they had more than enough talent available to rest most of their starters for the entire fourth quarter. 

“I thought we did our job,” Joe Mazzulla said. “The game went how it was supposed to go from the standpoint of I thought we played well, we executed, and I thought we came with the right mindset. You can’t not appreciate the times where you just come in, do your job and get out. I think that’s important, you know? But the mindset remains the same, whether it’s a win or a loss, it’s still unhealthy to stay attached to it.”

Grizzlies rookie G.G. Jackson, who is on a two-way contract, led the team in field-goal attempts with 24 (he made eight of them). To do their job, as Mazzulla put it, the Celtics needed to blow out the Grizzlies, and they did. 

3. Again, no surprise here, but Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis were overwhelming against the Grizzlies, which is what you would expect from an All-NBA First Teamer and a 7-foot-3 center with a nearly flawless offensive package playing against a team without 13 of its players on guaranteed contracts. Tatum scored 34 points and was barely moving the net with his 3-point attempts by the third quarter. He flirted with a triple-double as well, adding eight rebounds and seven assists. Porzingis scored 26 points on 10-for-17 shooting. 

4. Rookie Jordan Walsh scored his first NBA points with a big two-handed slam in the fourth quarter as he ran a fast break with Oshae Brissett, which energized the crowd. 

“Me and KP were talking about his first buckets,” Walsh told reporters after the game. “He was like, ‘a dunk or a windmill would be crazy.’ I was like, ‘I’m going for a dunk, KP.’ So it was amazing for sure.”

Fortunately for Walsh, he was able to track down the game ball, which he clutched in his postgame interview. 

“I had to hawk it down,” Walsh said. “I know everybody knows like the Giannis situation where he ran to the locker room. I was kind of like in that. Luckily, somebody caught it and was looking for me and found it. So I was just running around. He was running around looking for me. Then we found each other and I was like, ‘Is that it?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, this is it,’ and handed it to me.”

5. Neemias Queta scored eight points on 4-for-4 shooting and snared eight rebounds in his 9:40 of fourth-quarter playing time. The Celtics were +18 during that stretch. 

6. The January gauntlet really is over: After two days of rest, the Celtics get two more days off before Wednesday’s contest against the Hawks. They will take on the Wizards on Friday before a trip to Miami for a game against the Heat on Sunday.