The Boston Celtics have had seven different players miss games this season, combining for 28 total games. While this may seem like light work after last year’s disaster dealing with the injury bug, it still puts them in the top half of the NBA when it comes to both players that have missed games and games missed. According to head coach Ime Udoka, it has been the “story of the season — when one guy returns, another guy is out.”
Big man Al Horford took the time to comment on the injury issues last night as well. Even though Josh Richardson missed last night’s game against the Houston Rockets due to a non-COVID-related illness, the Celtics had most of their guys back. Both Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams returned to the lineup after missing significant time. When asked about the importance of getting guys back, Horford said, “just good to have most of our guys healthy. It’s a big difference from game one until now. We started a little sluggish there early, but I felt like we got it going a little in the second.”
While Williams looked as though he hasn’t missed a beat, it took Brown a bit to get going. After a slow first half, he finally broke out and looked like his old self in the second. He scored ten unanswered points in a minute including back-to-back pull-up threes to push a 12-point lead to 22.
It’s never easy to return from any injury, and hamstring injuries are particularly nagging. Brown even said after the game that his body didn’t feel right. Regardless, it was great to see him find a rhythm eventually, battling through the tough start to the game. Horford commented on this progress and how good it was to see Brown find his footing:
“Yeah, I think the biggest thing was just for him to get his legs underneath him. Feel confident moving on the court, feel confident in himself moving on the court. And once he was able to get a couple of baskets, and you could see that he just kind of felt more comfortable with everything. He opened up. Timing some things defensively, he’ll start to pick those up again. It’s different when you go from not playing to playing, but I felt like he responded well and he had that third quarter, that was a really nice stretch, seeing from him. Moving well, he kind of pushed through whatever he was going through physically. He was able to push through and you could see it. And it was just good that he had some success.”
Despite their constant health issues, Boston has won eight of their last 11 games after beginning the season 2-5. That being said, they have had the luxury of taking on some below-500 teams in the process. This shouldn’t take away from the progress they’ve made on both ends of the floor, but they have arguably their toughest stretch of the season coming up in December.
They’ll take on the Philadelphia 76ers (twice), the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Clippers (twice), the Phoenix Suns (twice), the Golden State Warriors, and the Milwaukee Bucks (twice). Each and every one of those teams projects to be a playoff team, and some of them are considered Finals favorites. With all of their injury issues, getting healthy and figuring things out will be crucial.
The Celtics have only played five games this season where their rotation has been fully healthy. Due to that, Udoka will have to iron things out on the fly. Rotations need to be adjusted, and Horford gave his thoughts on that challenge moving forward:
“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. Obviously, we’re missing J-Rich, but for the most part, we kind of got a good sense of how things can look. I feel like Romeo [Langford] was a big spark off the bench, timely offensive rebounds and scoring some baskets as well. So, now it’s kind of the time that you start seeing, and this next stretch is going to tell us a lot. I think you guys said, eight of nine, seven of eight on the road, and things like that. This stretch here, we’ll learn a lot more about our group. But I do believe that this is a great opportunity, and now we’re getting healthy, so that’s a positive.”
In the immediate, after hosting the Nets tonight, they have a huge five-game West Coast road trip coming up, and the competition will be stiff. The team has done a great job of fighting through their injury issues, but now they have to put it all together as players begin to return to the lineup. Hopefully, Boston can continue to build on the momentum they have built as the team starts to return to full health.