Following the Celtics‘ fourth-quarter collapse vs. the Bulls on Monday, Marcus Smart had some words to say about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
“I would just like to play basketball,” Smart said when asked about the Celtics’ late-game offense. “Every team knows we are trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen and every team is programmed and studies to stop Jayson and Jaylen. 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,” Smart continued. “They’re still learning and we’re proud of the progress they are making but they are going to have to make another step and find ways to not only create for themselves but create for others on this team, to open up the court for them later in the game where they don’t always have to take those tough shots or take tough matchups when they do get the 1-on-1 and see a trap. Just reading that. It’s something that we’ve been asking for them to do and they’re learning. We just got to continue to help those guys do that and to help our team.”
Smart said that following a fourth-quarter that had Boston score just 11 points, compared to a Chicago team that rallied, scoring 39 and coming back to secure the victory.
Tatum and Brown also declined the opportunity to meet with the media that night, as well.
Coach Ime Udoka, who has been emphatic about ball movement ever since he was hired, backed Smart’s comments.
“Some of the things he said, are things we talk about every day,” said the coach. “I’ve preached that from day one. Jayson and Jaylen are guys growing in that area, being playmakers, so, it’s stuff we’re constantly showing on film, talking about, so it’s nothing new as far as what we have shown and done, and they’ve done a great job in those areas.”
Udoka, who has led the C’s to a disappointing 2-5 start, says that he’s never been on or coached a team where two or more players don’t butt heads at least once.
“So, Marcus and Jaylen and Jayson have a history together, being together for a long time, and every team I’ve ever been on or coached has had moments where they butt heads,” Udoka said. “So it’s nothing that we haven’t talked about, nothing, no area that they haven’t shown improvement and growth in, and so we’ll leave it at that. I mean, it’s something that’s addressed and continually preached with those guys and so not trying to blow it out of proportion.”
Celtics president of basketball operations, Brad Stevens — Smart’s only NBA coach prior to him being promoted and Udoka being hired — also chimed in on the situation. Stevens said Smart and Tatum had breakfast together on Tuesday and addressed the situation among themselves.
“I think the most important thing about (Monday) night’s message or what he said was that he talked to those guys about it,” Stevens said on Tuesday. “And I saw that today. It’s funny, when you’re in it and you see guys at the facility and you see him and Jayson sitting down eating breakfast today and talking about, like, how to come to find our solution for our team. Those guys want to win.”
Stevens also added that he’s not panicking over the 2-5 start.
“Right now, 2-5, I feel a lot better from the structural standpoint than 2-5,” Stevens said. “So, it’s a long year. There’s 75 games left. Every loss and every moment gnaws at you and eats at you. But again, my responsibility is to look at it from the 10,000-foot view and not make those decisions based on the emotion of a tough 14 minutes in a basketball game.”
ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski said that Boston had a player-only team meeting that wasn’t so productive.
“When Boston traveled yesterday to Orlando, they had a players-only meeting,” Wojnarowski said Wednesday night. “Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown did talk about the collapse against the Bulls and Marcus Smart’s comments after the game about those two not passing the ball. I’m told, it was emotional at times but in the end, perhaps, not a terribly productive meeting, maybe not even beneficial.”
However, Boston did catch a break by beating the Orlando Magic, 92-79 on Wednesday night after being behind in the early going. But, Tatum went just 4-for-16 with 14 points, not adding much to the victory. Brown did post 28 points on 10-of-17 from the field, but Smart was only 3-for-8 with eight points.
Udoka, after the game, added that the meeting wasn’t very players-only and that it didn’t occur due to Smart’s comments.
“It wasn’t really a players-only meeting,” Udoka said. “We had a team dinner scheduled way before anything happened. That was planned for some weeks now and we gave the players their time before the coaching staff and everybody else came down.”
Celtics center Al Horford talked about the meeting after the game as well.
“Gathering, team dinner,” Horford remarked. “Nice to break bread together, hang out. Most importantly, talked about making sure that we come out here and have a good outing (Wednesday).”
Also, following the win, Brown met with the press for the first time since Smart’s comments. He said that the comments Smart made weren’t so beneficial to him, nor the team.
“Obviously in the midst of trying to win games, it’s something that we probably didn’t need. But we all communicate and talk to each other,” said Brown. “So we’re always trying to find ways to win and I’m open to any and everything when guys bring it to me, coaching staff. I’m always watching film trying to better myself and be a better basketball player and find ways to make my teammates better. So it felt good to get a win today.”
Brown, as mentioned, posted a team-best 28 points in Boston’s win over Orlando. The trio of Smart, Brown, and Tatum have been together for three years, with this season being the fourth. Smart and Brown have been together for the past five seasons — Smart is the longest-tenured player out of the bunch, with this year being his eighth year.
“Team meeting: just an opportunity to talk as a group, get some communication going in, and move forward. At the end of the day, we’ve been playing basketball together for a long time, all of us, especially our core group,” added Brown. “So when it comes down to it, it’s all about trying to find ways to win, and that’s what the conversation was about, et cetera. The last two days, we’ve just been focused on Orlando, and now we’re focused on Miami.”
The group does have a history together. If you go back to the 2020 Eastern Conference finals — in the bubble — Smart and Brown had a “heated confrontation.”
“We definitely have spent a lot of time with each other, which makes it good to be able to talk to somebody but also it’s a lot of ups and downs that you go through that we’re family and things like that. I think we have healthy conversations moving forward. Like I said, the energy is just focusing on winning, that’s it.”
The Celtics look ahead, hoping to move on from their drama. They don’t travel too far, as they pack their bags for a short road trip to the south as they take on the Miami Heat, at 7:30 p.m. EST.
(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)