“I feel great,” said Smart, who has been out since suffering a calf strain against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 30. “Today was the first day to really get out there and play 5-on-5 and get contact and really press it to the limit to see. It felt really good. It was hard to really do stuff over the break, 5-on-5, stuff like that. So today was the first time, and it felt great.
“So they cleared me and said if today went well, I’m most likely going to play tomorrow unless something changed. But as of right now, I will be playing in the game tomorrow,” Smart said Wednesday.
A short time later, Celtics coach Brad Stevens did his best to walk back Smart’s declaration somewhat, saying he still needs to talk to the training staff, as well as Smart, before he’ll know whether one of the league’s best perimeter defenders will be back to face former Celtic Kyrie Irving, former MVP James Harden and the rest of the Nets.
Assuming Smart does play against the Nets — who should have Blake Griffin in uniform for the first time — Stevens said he’d be held to a pretty strict minutes limit as he begins to work his way back into the lineup.
“He’ll be low for a while,” Stevens said, referring to Smart’s minutes total. “I mean, I don’t know what ‘a while’ means, but at least for a couple of games. I haven’t talked to the training staff. I know Marcus just said he’s playing, and I assumed he might, but I haven’t talked to the training staff about any of that, or him. So we’ll talk about that tonight and come up with a game plan.”
Boston went 9-9 without Smart – although that record looks much better after the Celtics won their final four games heading into the All-Star break. And, while he was on the sidelines, Smart — the team’s emotional leader — said that Boston was missing some of his trademark intensity, something he plans to fix right away.
“I think many factors went into our downfall, especially on the defensive end,” Smart said. “Fatigue, for one. Not having all the players. I think for us, our starting group of me, Kemba [Walker], Jayson [Tatum] and Jaylen [Brown] only played, I think, 28 minutes together total over the course of the season. This season took a lot of bumps and bruises. Jayson was out with COVID. JB was out with the protocol. Kemba was injured. Romeo Langford is still out with his wrist and just not coming back.
“There’s a lot of factors into it, but there’s no excuse for you to go out there and not give the effort. I think these guys know it. I think they feel it, they understand it. Like I said, there are a lot of factors that go into it. At least we have the second half of the season to make up for it.”
Speaking of Langford, who has yet to play this season after undergoing wrist surgery last year, Stevens said he would’ve been ready to make his season debut Thursday in Brooklyn, only to be held out of practice because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
Stevens said that Langford was the only player who was in them after the break and that it was “unlikely” he would go to Brooklyn. There was no indication of how long Langford would be out beyond Thursday’s game.
Had he been able to play, it would’ve marked the first time this season the Celtics would’ve had their full complement of players available.