The Boston Celtics suffered a major blow to their starting lineup Wednesday with Marcus Smart most likely missing at least the first round of the playoffs with a torn oblique.
On Wednesday afternoon, Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a Woj bomb that crushed Celtics fans everywhere. Marcus Smart, the heart and sole of the team, will miss at least the first round of the playoffs with a torn oblique. In a season of turmoil, Smart has been a consistent bright spot for the Celtics, with career-best marks from the field (42.2%) and from three (36.4%). Now the Celtics will have to get past the Pacers without their best defensive player and one of their best playmakers.
Smart suffered the injury Sunday night against the Orlando Magic, where he bumped in to center Nikola Vucevic. He tried to stay in the game, but the pain was too severe. Afterwards, Brad Stevens said Smart had a bruised oblique, which was a good sign for the fifth-year guard to make it back during the first round against Indiana. Smart reported more discomfort Wednesday, leading the team to discover the tear.
The Celtics had to go through most of the first round last year without Smart. He suffered a torn ligament in his thumb late in the regular season and came back earlier than he should have, especially in a contract year. Smart is known as one of the toughest players in the NBA, so if reports say he will miss two rounds of the playoffs, I’d probably expect him back sometime during the second round.
I think the Celtics can get past the Pacers without Smart. If they can’t, then the entire season was a bust anyway. They key will be the Milwaukee Bucks, the top seed in the Eastern Conference and probably the biggest challenge the Celtics will face before the NBA Finals. If they even make it that far.
In the meantime, I’d expect Jaylen Brown to replace Smart in the starting lineup. Brown has been terrific since his rough start to the season, and more recently he averaged 14.2 points per game in March while shooting 50% from the field and 42.4% from three. Brown’s two-way versatility also makes a big difference in a playoff series. Being able to guard four spots on the floor and punish smaller guards inside should be Brown’s calling card. Brown had a fantastic run in last year’s playoffs, but this season his reputation took a hit with a slow start. If he wants to reclaim his status as one of the best young players in the NBA, here’s his chance.
The Celtics should be able to replace Smart’s offensive and defensive contributions with the amount of talent they have on the bench. The true challenge will be replacing his heart. When the Celtics are flat, Smart is usually the one to flip momentum with a hustle play or a great steal. Someone will have to step up to soften that blow.