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Robb: Marcus Smart Must Show Better Awareness Going Forward

By Brian Robb, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – Let's start with this disclaimer: The Celtics aren't going anywhere in the first round of their series against the Atlanta Hawks without the help of Marcus Smart. That point became clear when Brad Stevens declared that starting shooting guard Avery Bradley was 'very unlikely' to play for the remainder of the series after suffering a strained hamstring in Game 1.

It's still anyone's guess whether Smart will get the nod at shooting guard for Game 2 in Bradley's place, but you can count on him getting the majority of Bradley's defensive responsibilities. Whether it's keeping Jeff Teague out of the paint or keeping Kyle Korver from getting open looks at the 3-point line, the second-year guard will be relied upon for 30-plus minutes as the Celtics attempt to steal a road win in Atlanta before returning home to Boston.

Smart's performance in Game 1 was an encouraging sign for Boston when assessing his ability to contribute in a larger role.  With Stevens electing to go small much of the contest, Smart tallied 15 points in 29 minutes of action and added five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. He was the team's best shooter from downtown (3-of-6), a far cry from his 25 percent 3-point shooting percentage in the regular season.

My issue with Smart wasn't his overall play, but his decision making, specifically in the last minute of the game. With the Celtics trailing by three and only 37 seconds on the clock, Evan Turner hoisted up an open 3-point shot. He missed and it was rebounded by Hawks guard Kent Bazemore.

Instead of attempting to play defense on the ensuing possession, Smart lost track of the clock or simply lacked awareness and gave a foul intentionally on Bazemore, an 80 percent free throw shooter. Bazemore hit a pair, making it a two-possession game and effectively ended any chance Boston had of tying the game in the final seconds.

If this was just a one-time mental mistake from Smart, it would be easier to shrug off, but this was not an isolated incident.

Back on Jan 11 in a road loss against Memphis, the Celtics trailed by one with 33 seconds remaining the game. Smart missed a shot in the lane and the Grizzlies got the rebound. 38 seconds on the game clock, 24 on the shot clock and Boston trailed by a mere point. What did Smart do? He intentionally fouled Grizzlies point guard Mario Chalmers when he got into the frontcourt in what was a borderline frustration/intentional foul.

Needless to say, his teammates were not happy (you can watch their reactions in this vine clip). Smart apologized to his teammate after the game, but the Celtics ended up losing that game.

What Smart did Saturday night was a little league type mistake. For that to happen in any game, much less a playoff one, is inexcusable at the pro level. You have to have better awareness than that. For it to happen multiple times in a season is troublesome. Basketball IQ is a huge thing to have at any level and Smart hasn't been showing enough of it this year when the game is on the line.

The good news for the 22-year-old guard is that his mishaps aren't going to keep him from being on the floor when it matters. Stevens is lacking options now in the backcourt so he's going to ride it out with his young guard, for better or worse. For a player that does so many little things to help his team, which don't make the box score, having better late-game awareness is one area where he still has plenty to prove.

He gets another shot on Tuesday night in Atlanta.

Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.

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