Last week’s edition of Danny Ainge’s weekly appearance on 98.5 The SportsHub’s Toucher & Rich Show was spent in large part defending Marcus Smart amid his suspension for a postgame interaction with an official. This week’s jampacked chat was spent... well, not dissimilarly. Ainge would defend Smart for a different kind of offense, if you will, but perhaps more pressing was his update on the status of Jaylen Brown.
“It’s looking like he’ll probably be returning on Sunday,” Ainge told Toucher and Rich, responding to their question about Brown’s health heading into a crucial matchup with Miami this coming Sunday. Brown injured his ankle late in Sunday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers after colliding with Jayson Tatum on the sideline and missed Wednesday’s win over the Orlando Magic. He will also be out for Friday’s game against the Chicago Bulls.
Overall, this final stretch for the Celtics is crucial even beyond the two games they’ll play against the Heat — one on Sunday, the other on Tuesday — as Boston currently finds itself hovering on the fringe of falling into the play-in tournament. The Celtics are currently tied with Miami for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. They also hold the tiebreaker advantage, having defeated the Heat in their lone tilt back in January.
Ainge views this stretch as quite pivotal and said that the team is playing that way. “I think that our mode right now is that we’re in the playoffs at this moment… with all the injuries we’ve had, and COVID issues we’ve had this year, I feel like our team right now, these are playoff games, the rest of the way.”
As for the play-in tournament — which has made headlines recently due to Luka Doncic, Mark Cuban, and LeBron James expressing frustrations with the format — Ainge noted that it didn’t really matter what he thought. But not without a qualifier.
“It is what it is. There’s a play-in tournament, we’ve known it from the beginning of the year, so, it is what it is,” he said. “I think there [is] some good and bad… I think it’s good that it keeps everybody involved. There’s teams that get hurt during the course of the season, and it gives them potential. It’s still hard to make it if you have to play in, but at least it keeps you alive... I prefer the older way, but this is what we’re dealt with, and we have to make the most of it.”
Later in the interview, the conversation veered toward the inevitable: Marcus Smart. The Celtics guard was ejected Sunday after what is being affectionately deemed a “nut-shot” on Trail Blazers’ center Jusuf Nurkic. Despite the ejection, Ainge didn’t feel as though Smart had any ill intention, and that he was merely playing how he plays.
“To determine it’s intentional, I think is a stretch,” he said. “Based on what I saw… I watch Marcus fight over screens all the time and I don’t see any difference between that one and others that he tries to get over the top.” As for the refereeing process — which took a whopping six minutes to deem whether or not Smart would be ejected for a flagrant two — Ainge was at a bit of a loss.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” he said. I don’t even know what the process is... With that much time to make a decision, it feels like a jury trying to make a decision and there’s a disagreement as to what the case is. And if there’s any disagreement, to take that long to convince everybody, you just worry about the bias. If it’s not obvious, you don’t make the call. That’s my opinion.”