With the regular season in the books, the Boston Celtics remained in a holding pattern before their first round playoff series can kick off. After the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, the Hawks clinched the 7th seed and will face off against the Celtics. Boston held practice Tuesday where Joe Mazzulla gave an update on Jaylen Brown’s status going into Game 1 on Saturday.
“It’s getting better,” said Joe Mazzulla. “He wasn’t able to practice today, but he was out there for everything and still no restrictions heading into Game 1. Brown missed the last two games of the regular season, after reportedly cutting his hand on a broken vase while he was watering his plants. After receiving five stitches, Coach Mazzulla said he was not expected to miss any of the playoffs, and on Tuesday, he said that Brown’s targeted return for this week would be either Thursday or Friday.
Marcus Smart also sat the last three games of the season as he dealt with neck spasms, but did participate in practice on Tuesday as well. “He’s good,” said Mazzulla. “He’s ramped up, he was great today in practice. Lively, said he felt good, so he’ll be ready to go.” With the seeding locked in, Boston had the benefit of being able to rest the players who needed it the most, and after nearly a week off, they’ll have fresh legs going into their first round matchup with Atlanta.
Marcus Smart tells me he's finally feeling better and has the range of motion back after a pinched nerve in his neck.— John Karalis (@John_Karalis) April 11, 2023
"I couldn't even look look up, couldn't look down, couldn't sleep, couldn't lay down. It was really painful."
A big part of how Boston has navigated the injuries they’ve had this season has been due to depth additions like Malcolm Brogdon, Blake Griffin, and Mike Muscala. Players like Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet have stepped their game up, and can be depended on as needed if the time comes. Having so many guys on a roster who can contribute solid minutes has made for some fluid rotations, which will continue to be interesting heading into their matchup against Atlanta.
“It depends on the matchup,” said Mazzulla on how he assesses rotations. “Obviously, when we’re fully healthy, it’s a little bit different. But at the end of the day, one of the things this roster was built on was depth and the ability to play different ways. So we all have to be prepared to play a role in a series. It could be long and all those guys have to be ready to play a role.”
When asked what the team’s focus was heading into Round 1, Mazzulla said, “us. You know, Offense, defense, special situations, game management. ‘What’s it look like when we’re at our best? What’s it look like when we’re not at our best? How do we navigate that, how do we work through it?’”
In terms of their first round matchup, drawing Atlanta was absolutely the more preferable outcome for the Celtics; that isn’t so much a comment on the Hawks, but an acknowledgment of how good the Miami Heat can play against Boston. After a grueling seven-game series against the Heat last season fresh on everyone’s minds, it felt like that rematch was inevitable.
Instead, the Celtics will take on a Hawks team that they’ve gone 3-0 against this season. It’s the playoffs, and looking past the opponent in front of you can mean disaster. But after all of the concerns about seeding, Boston has been given the best possible outcome, and did so by staying in the two seed. Now, it’s all a matter of focus and execution starting on Saturday afternoon, 3:30 pm EST tipoff.