Marcus Smart has been named the 2021-22 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the league announced Monday. On Sunday, Smart, Phoenix Suns wing Mikal Bridges and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert were named finalists for the award. Smart won a fairly close race by taking home 37 first-place votes. Bridges earned 22, Gobert got 12, Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo got 13 and Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. got 10.
Smart was one of the catalysts for Boston's No. 1 ranked defense this season. The Celtics allowed 106.2 points per 100 possessions this season, but since Jan. 1, that number fell to 105.2 as Boston adjusted to new coach Ime Udoka. The Celtics, after starting the season 23-24, finished with the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference thanks to a 27-7 stretch keyed by their defense.
Smart became the first guard since 1996 to win the award. Gary Payton, the 1996 winner, was on-hand in Boston to reveal the news to Smart.
Payton had previously endorsed Smart as his choice to win the award, and Smart has been vocal about his disagreement with voters for not awarding a guard since Payton. Prior to 1996, only four other guards had won the award since its 1983 inception: Michael Jordan, Alvin Robertson, Michael Cooper and Sidney Moncrief.
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Smart put his defensive excellence to work on Sunday when his Celtics defeated the Brooklyn Nets, 115-114 on a last second layup by Jayson Tatum that he assisted on. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on the other side of the matchup, Smart will need to be at his best to get Boston out of the first round, but if he and his team keeps playing as well as it has, they're going to make a run at a far bigger trophy than the one he just won.