Atlantic Notes: Smart, Celtics, Holiday, Batum, DiVincenzo

The Celtics‘ NBA-best record (11-2) suggests they’re doing just fine so far this season without longtime backcourt cornerstone Marcus Smart. However, conversations with Celtics players reveal that moving on from Smart and getting used to playing without him hasn’t been easy, according to Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston.

“[Smart is] a big part of this culture,” Jayson Tatum said ahead of Boston’s Sunday matchup with the Grizzlies, Smart’s new team. “He was the most beloved Celtic that we had on our team. He was the heart and soul. To see him leave — I thought I was going to play with Smart my entire career. So seeing him leave was tough.”

“I’m going to miss watching him play basketball because he was a lot of fun to watch. Just creative and engaging and like really one-of-a-kind as a player,” Luke Kornet added. “He was a great teammate and player, and his competitive abilities were incredible.”

Having been diagnosed last week with a sprained left foot, Smart wasn’t able to take the court on Sunday in his first game against his former team. The veteran guard still got the opportunity to catch up with old friends and teammates, but he admitted in an interview with Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston that it was disappointing not to be able to suit up on Sunday.

“We’ve been struggling and we got a great win (on Saturday),” Smart said, per Brian Robb of “To come back and play a team like Boston, not to be a part of it is definitely devastating.”

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • While Jrue Holiday is known most for his defensive ability and the Celtics have no shortage of scoring options, the team is encouraging the veteran guard to be aggressive on the offensive end of the court rather than simply deferring to teammates and focusing on defense, as Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe and Jay King of The Athletic detail. Holiday’s scoring average (12.9 PPG) is his lowest mark since his rookie year in 2009/10, but head coach Joe Mazzulla knows he’s capable of giving the team more if needed. “I told him…I watched you on film take things over when guys on the Bucks team were out and you won games because of what you did on both ends,” Mazzulla said last week.
  • Sixers forward Nicolas Batum was back with the team on Sunday after missing three consecutive games for personal reasons. According to Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link), Batum explained that he was away due to a health situation with his wife and expects to be back with the club for good now. “I can’t really say what it is, but I had to be there,” Batum said. “… Sometimes, you have to do what you’ve got to do for your family. She’ll be OK now.”
  • Donte DiVincenzo‘s connection to former Villanova teammates like Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart was one reason why he joined the Knicks as a free agent this past offseason, and he and Brunson showed on Saturday that the chemistry they established in college remains strong, per Steve Popper of Newsday. Starting alongside Brunson, who had 32 points of his own, DiVincenzo scored a career-high 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting. “I’m not really surprised by it. But it’s pretty cool to see it, one of your best friends playing that way,” Brunson said, adding that he’s “not taking it for granted” to get to play in the NBA with so many of his friends from Villanova.
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