By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Marcus Smart is 6-foot-3, but the Celtics guard is willing to body up with anybody in the NBA. Even those who stand over six inches taller than him.
Over the last week, Brad Stevens has sicked his bulldog on the likes of Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo (6-foot-11), New York's Julius Randle (6-foot-9) and on Tuesday, Cleveland's Kevin Love (6-foot-8). Giving up a handful of inches and a lot more lbs never deters Smart from bullying his much-bigger opponents, and are the kind of matchups he relishes.
"I love those types of challenges, especially on a night like tonight," Smart said following Boston's 119-113 win over the Cavaliers. "When I seen the matchup, I was excited for it."
Smart doesn't win all of those battles every time up the floor, but he certainly holds his own. On a number of occasions Tuesday night, Love tried to use his superior frame to back down Smart to no avail. Love hit his first two shots against Smart in the fourth quarter, only to miss his last three. Smart's most important defensive play came in the game's closing minute as the no-quit Cavaliers tried to inch closer in a 116-113 game. Love got the ball just outside of the paint with Smart on him, and started banging his way toward the hoop. Smart called off a double team from Daniel Theis and took Love on his own, forcing the forward into an off-balance turnaround hook shot. Love's bid banged off the backboard with no real shot at going through the hoop, and Boston came away with the rebound to seal the win. Smart also snagged a rebound over Cleveland center Tristan Thompson with 12 seconds left in game.
Smart, who said that he considers himself a "stretch 6" after the win, finished with eight points, five rebounds and four assists. But as most NBA fans have come to learn over the last six years, Smart's impact goes much deeper than the stat sheet.
The Celtics haven't had their full depth of big men all season, but Smart helped them manage. His physicality makes life tough on bigger players, and that was the case again Tuesday night. Love, who has averaged 14 rebounds per game this season, was held to just nine boards. He had to work for his 17 points, shooting 7-for-14 on the floor.
Love had nothing but, well, love for Smart and his defense after the game.
"He's tough," said Love. "What they lack in size they make up in effort. They'll put him on the top player on every single team. He'll guard LeBron, he'll guard Giannis, he'll guard Harden, he'll guard Steph Curry. That's what he gets paid to do. He's really tough out there and can guard anyone 1-5. He's a difference-maker for the team."
Love compared Smart to Cleveland's Matthew Dellavedova, a comparison that will certainly draw some "huh?!?"s from Celtics fans. But his message is clear: Smart wins Boston games just on his defensive tenacity.
"You can really stick them on anybody and no matter what, every single night they're going to bring it. Some of the time, they're going to win you games just on being them and with energy," he said. "A lot of the things aren't going to show up in the stat sheet. He does an unbelievable job every night."
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