Watching Marcus Smart crumble to the ground after stepping awkwardly on the foot of Indiana's Lavoy Allen during Friday's win over the Pacers was difficult for Celtics fans to watch. As he lay vulnerably on the court in obvious pain, awaiting the stretcher that would cart him away, it left us all expecting the worst.
As it turns out, Smart may have dodged a bullet. X-Rays revealed no broken bones and he was diagnosed with only a sprained ankle. Now there are of course different types of sprains that each have a different level of severity. Just ask Minnesota's Ricky Rubio, who could be sidelined up to 8 weeks with a badly sprained ankle. All things considered, Smart got off easy.
The Celtics expect Smart to be sidelined for 2-3 weeks with the injury, which seems like a fairly aggressive timeline. Maybe it's the haunting image of Smart's ankle taking an unnatural turn just before he hit the ground that remains stuck in my mind, but it would be surprising if he returned to the court on the early side of that time frame.
That won't stop a determined Smart from doing everything he can to get back quickly. He has been following the treatments of the team's training staff and working hard in his rehab. It's still early in the recovery time, but coach Brad Stevens sounded optimistic when he discussed Smart's recovery with reporters.
"Marcus looks great," said Stevens. "I saw Marcus [on Sunday], he was in for treatment three times. He's been in for treatment already today. He looks better than [Sunday]; better than the day before. It's progressing the way it's supposed to."
So it would appear that Smart is at least on track in the early going to make it back within the projected window. While Stevens admits that Smart has some work ahead of him in order to reach that goal, he's confident that the rookie is up for the task.
"He's gotta heal well and continue to do his treatment. If he does his treatment diligently, he'll be back sooner rather than later. Because [the medical staff] really work[s] hard to get these guys back. I anticipate him being back; he's a pretty diligent kid. He works pretty hard at it."
That's great news if Smart is able to recover quickly. He's already missed one game with the injury so far, but if he can make it back within two weeks then he'll end up missing only six games. Luckily the schedule lightens up around that time, so even if he misses a full three weeks it will only cost him another two games. Missing six to eight games seems like a blessing considering that when the injury first occurred it looked like something that could easily cost him six to eight weeks.
While the news is brighter than we originally anticipated, Smart still needs to be cautious about rushing back from this injury. It would be all too easy for him to tweak that ankle again and set back his recovery. The Celtics are better off making sure the ankle is strong enough for him to play at game speed again before allowing him to return so that they don't risk a more lengthy absence.
Rajon Rondo is expected to return to the lineup on Wednesday, after sitting out the last game following a procedure to remove a screw from his surgically repaired hand. With their floor general back to run the show, there is less pressure on Smart to hurry back. Rondo can handle the bulk of the point guard duties, while Evan Turner was impressive when forced into an emergency start at point guard on Saturday. They can hold down the fort until Smart is ready to reclaim his role in the rotation. The important thing is for Smart to get healthy.
Luckily, it doesn't sound like it should take too long for him get there.