The Celtics held two more practices before and after their back-to-back games to finish the regular season, set in the No. 7 seed, piling up rest days for its key rotation players while scouting possible opponents for the play-in tournament. Brad Stevens saw a group at practice locking in and nearing full health. One or two games will determine the season’s outcome, one that appears to have a capped ceiling with the east-leading Nets and 76ers awaiting a Celtics victory to meet them in round one.
Marcus Smart (calf), Robert Williams III (turf toe) and Tristan Thompson (pectoral strain) all practiced today as Boston had full participation aside from Jaylen Brown (wrist), who underwent season-ending wrist surgery last week. The available trio responded well, with Thompson dealing with minor pain and Smart expected to play tomorrow’s one-game playoff at 9 p.m. EST against the Wizards. Williams III’s status will be determined tomorrow after missing 5.5 games.
“The hope is that we’ll have everybody available,” Stevens said. “I think Rob will still be a game-time decision, but Smart looked great, Kemba looked good, Tristan is still dealing with some soreness, but looks like he’ll be good. We should have definitely more than yesterday.”
The Celtics stole some rest after clinching the seven seed following a loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday, a condensed scheduling pressuring the team’s health and stamina all year. If the seven doesn’t doesn’t excite hopes around the Celtics, lining them up against an excruciating path starting with a Washington team that’s won 17-of-23, the prospect of increased health, extended preparation and a week at home should.
Walker, who hasn’t played since May 11, averaged 21 points per game on 50% shooting and 37.1% from deep in three games in which he rested more than three days prior to. Jayson Tatum, who rested during Sunday’s season finale, will also approach three days off leading up to Tuesday’s late tip-off. He played in four games after 3+ days off this season, averaging 28.3 PPG on 49.3% efficiency.
“I thought about (rest cooling me down),” Walker said after averaging 21.3 PPG in April/May. “It’s kind of always a fine line you know. I’m still putting my work in, still putting shots up, trying to stay in rhythm as best as I can, but the most important thing is for me to feel as good as possible and I do. I feel really good right now.”
Larger concerns emerged around Smart last week after a collision with Duncan Robinson in the second game against Miami. Stevens said then Smart escaped with a calf contusion rather than another sprain or tear. Smart missed significant time earlier this season with a tear in his left calf. This latest injury afflicted his right and was alleviated through six days of rest.
“I’m feeling great,” Smart said. “The time off, with the rest, definitely helped ... the training staff has done a good job to keep me in shape with this amount of time off and stay ready.”
The hope for full strength is overshadowed by Brown’s season-ending injury and Williams’ lingering turf toe. Williams received a cortisone shot that didn’t immediately improve the severe pain that Stevens stressed comes with the injury. He tried to play through it against Orlando and Miami and struggled, exiting the Heat game at halftime, and the fact that leaping, explosion and rotating make up the strengths of his game doesn’t improve the prospect of Boston receiving his best even if he does appear.
Thompson labored through his pec pain against Miami before sitting out the weekend, Tacko Fall received some minutes and Luke Kornet showed mixed results in extended run at Minnesota and New York. Stevens expects small ball to be among the looks Washington throws at Boston, which will allow Grant Williams to possibly get involved with wing-heavy lineups and limit Rob and Thompson’s burden.
Those sets won’t be the same without Brown, who Smart praised as a leader and energy setter, but the Celtics have enough of their lineup ready and fresh enough to be considered slight favorites Tuesday as Smart reminded that everyone is back to 0-0 with the arrival of the playoffs.
Bradley Beal’s nagging hamstring injury, which he played through while shooting 8-of-27, raises questions on the Wizards front too.
The Celtics will hold a shoot-around at 9 EST tomorrow, following their practices on Friday and Sunday that reminded Stevens of a scouting ramp-up to a NCAA Tournament game. Boston should know more about Williams’ availability then.