Look, when I had the idea for this article, I wasn’t anticipating Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania huddling up for old time’s sake just to drop bomb after bomb on the subject of Boston’s injury woes in quick succession on Monday afternoon. I don’t know about you, but after the third or fourth tweet, I actually laughed despite deep despair creeping in. The following words were floating around in my head as I tried desperately to not be mad online:
“I’m not mad. Actually, it’s funny to me. I’m okay with how things are currently unfolding.”
Let’s back it up a little bit. I had the idea to write this right after the Boston Celtics lost a close game to the Indiana Pacers by two points while missing two starters for the entire game and Kyrie Irving for the second half. Marcus Smart had arguably his best game of the season on both ends (20 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists & 6 3-pointers). Jayson Tatum had a few rookie errors in driving to the hoop, but the idea was there. He had the right mentality to attack all night, so I couldn’t complain.
Terry Rozier scored in double-figures for a career-high 16th straight time, extending the best stretch of his NBA career by far. Greg Monroe has continued to look impactful on the offensive end (we’re going to ignore defense here for narrative’s sake), and even though Boston lost, it’s hard to blame them.
I wanted to write this considering that although there was some postgame uncertainty regarding Kyrie Irving’s knee injury, he sounded optimistic about his long-term prospects.
I was going to tell everyone to not panic. At this point, the Celtics are pretty much locked into the second seed, sitting 3.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors and 7 games ahead of the 3rd seeded Pacers. With that kind breathing room, I was going to say that it would be fine if Irving missed a week or two or even three.
Boston has a scoring issue when Irving’s on the bench, and that hasn’t changed all season. Allowing Starter Marcus Smart (who ranks highly in the Marcus Smart power rankings, well ahead of Hot Cheetos Hair Marcus Smart) and Starter Terry Rozier (while Jaylen Brown continues to recover from his concussion) to get extended reps as starters would do a lot of good things for the team both in the long and short term.
Then the first bomb dropped:
Sources: Celtics center Daniel Theis has suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee and will undergo season-ending surgery. Theis emerged as an important reserve for Boston this season.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 12, 2018
“Dang, that sucks. Our defense is going to slip, but at least we ha-”
Right thumb injury to Celtics guard Marcus Smart -- for now, called a sprain -- is under scrutiny with medical staff, league sources tell ESPN. Still unclear if Smart can play through it -- or will need to miss time.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 12, 2018
“Man, you have to be kidding me. I was looking forward to Starter Marcus so Kyrie can rest a bit. I just hope it’s not seri-”
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has suffered a torn tendon in his right thumb, league sources tell Yahoo. He will have second opinions on his thumb and be out indefinitely.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 12, 2018
Losing Daniel Theis for the rest of the season is awful in itself. After his signing came out of nowhere, he’s played an integral role over the course of the season. He did a bunch of the little things that matter in the playoffs, so losing that is a big deal. Hopefully, Semi Ojeleye and Greg Monroe can combine to mitigate the offensive and defensive energy that Theis brought consistently.
The Smart news was even more devastating. We all collectively breathed a sigh of relief a month ago when Smart revealed that his picture frame-punching incident (that also gave him super powers) left glass inches away from cutting a tendon. So when Charania’s tweet dropped, the irony of the situation was overwhelming.
Per Mark Murphy, Danny Ainge disputed that Smart tore a tendon, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of surgery. This late into the season, the “s” word is really a thief of joy.
So everything is not perfectly fine. Shane Larkin is still on a minutes restriction, Jaylen Brown is still concussed, Al Horford couldn’t practice still because of his illness and Kyrie Irving is dealing with tendonitis. It could get really ugly over the next week or so.
But all things considered, Boston really will be just fine beyond this week. Injuries are a part of the game, even when they come in bulk like they have over the last few days. That’s why you have to win games when you have the opportunity at full health, and Boston did just that.
Since losing Gordon Hayward, the Celtics have been playing with house money all season, and no one called them being near 50 wins in early March. The Celtics have positioned themselves well to weather this storm for the time being. It’s okay now to lose a few games in the short term to prepare for the playoffs. If Irving resting for two weeks will get him right for the playoffs, it’s absolutely worth losing a few games.
Boston’s magic number for the 2nd seed is 9 (combination of wins and losses by the field). With 15 games left in the season, it’s deeply rooted within the realm of possibility that they’ll hold on. As we learn more about Smart’s hand in the coming days, Boston’s long-term goals for this season will come more into focus, but this is still a great team when healthy. If Smart can replace his hand with a robotic limb and return relatively soon, the Celtics will still most likely be Eastern Conference Finals-bound. They could still conceivably get there if Smart doesn’t play again this season, though the road gets a lot tougher without him.
If Smart doesn’t recover soon, Irving’s knee continues to give him problems, Larkin never ramps up beyond 15-17 minutes, and Hayward doesn’t come back before the playoffs, well, there’s always next season*. That’s the luxury the team has afforded itself by crafting a young, competitive core. Being patient is hard, especially when it comes to sports fandom and the “what if’s” of injuries. But don’t worry, this team will be competitive for a long, long time, regardless of how far they go this season, which, for the record, could still be pretty far.
Also, there’s always Yabu. He’s the real silver lining.
*I am fully prepared to eat my words when Brad Stevens coaches a starting lineup of Rozier, Kadeem Allen, Abdel Nader, Jayson Tatum & Aron Baynes to the NBA Finals.