LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals series between the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, Raptors guard Norman Powell had the ball on a fast break against Celtics guard Marcus Smart with less than a minute to go in double overtime and converted an and-1 layup that helped seal a dramatic Toronto victory to keep the series alive.
With less than a minute to go in Game 7 on Friday night, the same scenario presented itself. This time, however, Smart made sure there would be a different result.
“As soon as Norman caught the ball, instantly I remembered last game,” Smart said later.
“In my mind I was just telling myself, ‘He has to dunk it. I’m not gonna give no foul. I’m just gonna meet him up top and see who wins that battle.'”
It turned out that Smart’s defense, as it often does, won out this time. And, as a result, the Celtics won 92-87 and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
Smart’s block on Powell with 58.2 seconds left — a play reminiscent of the chasedown block by LeBron James against Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals — prevented Toronto from its best chance of tying the score in the final moments, as the Celtics advanced to the conference finals for a third time in four years.
After the Raptors survived close calls in Games 3 and 6, Smart’s block proved to be the moment that finally caused the defending champions to be sent home from the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort.
“I bet on myself 110% of the time,” Smart said. “I’m first-team all-defense for a reason, and I believe in that wholeheartedly.”
Smart often trails in attention behind his higher-profile teammates in Boston, and that remained the case in Game 7. Jayson Tatum (29 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists) became the second-youngest player in NBA history to have at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in a Game 7 — trailing only his idol, Kobe Bryant. Jaylen Brown had 21 points, and Kemba Walker struggled overall but made a couple of key plays in the fourth, including the clinching free throws with 7.9 seconds left.
But ask anyone around the Celtics, and they will be quick to say that it is Smart — with his toughness, his defense and his nonstop hustle — who is the heart and soul of this team. And it was fitting that his play was the one that helped seal Boston’s win, both in this game and this series.
“That block was so special,” Walker said. “It was unreal. That’s why he’s first-team all-defense. He shows it night in and night out. He made so many huge plays tonight. A lot of the things he does just go unnoticed.
“But that kid, he’s special, man. He’s on a different level at that end of the basketball court.”
Smart played a huge role in the struggles of Raptors star Pascal Siakam in the series. He made multiple stops on Powell in the fourth quarter before his highlight block. And, if it wasn’t for Toronto’s late comeback in Game 6, Smart’s first playoff triple-double in that game would’ve been the thing that carried Boston into the East finals against the Miami Heat a game sooner.
Still, the Celtics will simply be glad to be getting there at all, after surviving this…
Read More News: Smart delivers ‘unreal’ block to help seal Game 7