The Boston Celtics are on their way to their first NBA Finals in 12 years, but one of the team’s most memorable events from this season feels like it happened a long time ago. Marcus Smart made some honest comments about teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown following an ugly defeat to the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 1 that dropped the club to 2-5, prompting a players-only meeting that didn’t seem to fix much, at least not right away.
“Every team knows we are trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen and every team is programmed and studies to stop Jayson and Jaylen,” Smart said at the time. “I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys try to pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball and that’s something that they’re going to learn.”
Fast forward nearly seven months, and the Celtics have beaten the Miami Heat and will face the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals this week.
In a one-on-one interview with NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin after Game 7, Smart was asked whether he could recollect a time throughout the season when things started to change for this squad, and he quickly remembered the backlash he received for his comments.
“After everybody mistook what I said about the Jays, when I was talking about everybody else’s scouting report against them and they tried to make it seem like that was for me and tried to stir the pot between us,” Smart told Chin. “We just came even closer from that. “We love each other, we’re like brothers. Brothers fight, argue, but it just makes us closer.”
The Celtics clearly turned things around, but it didn’t happen overnight. After a 108-105 loss to the New York Knicks in which the squad lost a 25-point lead, the team slumped to 18-21 in early January. The Celtics have gone 45-16 (including the postseason) since that game and are just four wins away from winning their 18th championship and first since 2008.
“Everybody counted us out early in the season and everybody jumped back on the bandwagon when we started getting things clicking,” Smart said. “Like [Jaylen Brown] said, the energy is about to shift, and he wasn’t lying.”
Smart, who has been with the Celtics for eight seasons, was voted Defensive Player of the Year this season after scoring 12.1 points per game and 5.9 assists, both career highs.