OKLAHOMA CITY – Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is known for its rowdy environment and its ability to rattle opposing NBA players. For one member of the Celtics, however, the arena has the opposite effect.
Marcus Smart feels at home.
Smart has played outstanding basketball inside the arena and gave insight at Friday morning’s shootaround, ahead of tip-off against the Thunder, as to why such is the case.
“I do feel comfortable (here), probably more than any other arena,” he told Celtics.com. “I feel comfortable in every arena, but this one in particular.”
The numbers certainly agree.
Smart, who grew up in Texas and went to college 65 miles northeast of Oklahoma City at Oklahoma State, has played at a very high level inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, which has given him a special connection to the building.
He played one game at Chesapeake Energy Arena during college, a 70-55 win over Louisiana Tech during which he stuffed the box score with 13 points, five rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocked shots. He has since gone on to play three NBA games inside the building, compiling averages of 20.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.
Smart’s first two professional games in the arena were unquestionably the most memorable.
Back on March 18, 2015, the rookie guard started for the then 30-36 Celtics, and he was tasked with facing off against this year’s reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook. Westbrook averaged 28.1 points, 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game that season. No one – save for Smart – thought Boston’s rookie had a chance of even giving Westbrook a run for his money.
All Smart did was outperform Westbrook at both ends of the court.
Smart compiled a stat line of 25 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocked shots. He shot 57.1 percent from the field and 58.3 percent from long distance during the contest.
Westbrook, meanwhile, shot only 30.8 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from 3-point range while being defended in large part by Smart and former Celtic Avery Bradley. Westbrook did lead the game with 36 points and 10 assists, to go along with five rebounds and five steals, but he was far less efficient than Smart and he committed five more turnovers than Boston’s then-rookie.
The C’s fell 122-118, but they saw glimpses of how bright Smart’s future could be.
The next season, Smart and the C’s exacted revenge on the Thunder by grabbing a 100-85 win on Nov. 15, 2015 in Oklahoma City that featured another standout performance from Smart. The guard tallied 26 points on 64.3 percent shooting to go along with eight rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal during the victory. Westbrook again was far less efficient, shooting 25.0 percent from the field en route to 27 points, four rebounds, five assists and four steals.
So during two out of three career games in OKC, Smart truly has outperformed Westbrook. That’s not a fact that can be taken lightly.
Smart’s play in Chesapeake Energy Arena hasn’t gone unnoticed. Brad Stevens, asked vaguely Friday morning about whether or not he’s aware of his players having played particularly well inside certain arenas, began his answer by saying, “Obviously you’re referring to Marcus in here.”
Even Smart’s teammates poke at him for how well he plays in his college and home states.
“Everybody kind of jokes around with it, ‘We’re going back to Oklahoma, we’re going back to Dallas, it’s time to get Marcus the ball,’” Smart said with a smile.
The C’s would be wise – or smart, if you will – to do so tonight. Smart has shot 53.2 percent from the field over four games in the building, three of which were played the pros and one of which that was played in college, and he has outperformed arguably the greatest point guard on Earth twice in three matchups.
The atmosphere inside Chesapeake Energy Arena may rattle the majority of opposing players, but Smart is clearly an exception. He feels right at home when he steps inside the building’s sea of blue, orange and white.
Bedlam Weekend in Oklahoma
It’s Bedlam Weekend in Oklahoma, and Marcus Smart knows just how important that fact is.
Smart spent two years at Oklahoma State and knows the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State rivalry all too well. He participated in it on the basketball court for two seasons, and he witnessed it on the football field with his own eyes on Dec. 6, 2014.
Boston’s fourth-year guard did his best to summarize just how crazy Bedlam Weekend is inside this state.
“They call it Bedlam for a reason,” he said. “It has its own definition … I think it’s a state of uproar. It definitely fits the definition.”
The exact definition is: a place, scene, or state of uproar and confusion.
These football games, the latest of which will be played at 4 p.m. EST Saturday afternoon when No. 5 Oklahoma visits No. 11 Oklahoma State, certainly don’t stray far from that, according to Smart.
“The atmosphere was insane. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he remembered of the 2014 game he attended. “Everywhere you went, it was crowded. It was hard to walk. It was just really literally a state of uproar. Everyone was going crazy, college kids were drunk. It was just a big party.”
Smart joked that he’d like to join that party tomorrow by booking a separate flight from the team’s, which is scheduled to depart for Orlando at 11 a.m. local time. One can only imagine how much of an uproar this state will be in Saturday afternoon if Smart’s Cowboys pull off an upset that could put them in contention for the College Football Playoff.