Marcus Smart’s durability no longer appeared to be a concern after leading the Celtics in games played this year with 80 through Sunday night. For the first time in years, Boston looked poised to enter the postseason with a clean bill of health, something that would help to move past an underwhelming regular season.
Those hopes came to a close on Wednesday however after the team announced on Wednesday night that Smart would be sidelined from basketball activities for 4-6 weeks after suffering a partial avulsion of his left oblique abdominal muscle off of his iliac crest following a collision with Nikola Vucevic. The injury means Smart will be sidelined at the start of Boston’s postseason for the second straight year (he missed four games last year in the first round with a torn thumb tendon).
The 4-6 weeks timetable puts a possible return for Smart directly in the middle of a potential matchup with the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. However, getting there in the first place will be a tougher obstacle than anticipated as Boston’s top defensive weapon watches the first round from the sidelines. Where exactly does Brad Stevens go from here? A look at the key questions in wake of a devasting blow to Boston’s playoff chances.
Who starts next to Kyrie?
A lot of this will depend on the specific matchups, so we will start here strictly by addressing the Pacers since that’s the series we know Smart will miss in its entirety. The Celtics have been vulnerable against elite backcourt and wing scorers and while Bojan Bogdanovic is no All-Star, he’s crafty enough to give a lot of the Celtics' wings problems. He's also Indiana's best scorer with Victor Oladipo sidelined. Smart’s job against the Pacers was shutting him down and he did that incredibly well in Indiana last Friday night during a blowout win (Bogdanovic scored three points). Jayson Tatum will also guard Bogdanovic in segments but he struggles with chasing crafty players on the perimeter at times. It's easier to get away with him on Wesley Matthews in the twilight of his career.
There are a couple of clear options here for the starting spot without Smart: Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward. Starting Brown brings a more athletic element in the starting five and reunites the group that saw success last season before Irving went down. Meanwhile, Hayward brings a smarter defensive IQ than Brown, making him more capable of handling Bogdanovic’s craftiness in spots, particularly going around screens. Hayward also provides another ballhandler in the starting five to take some pressure off of Irving, which Smart was also responsible for since his switch into the starting five.
The guess here is that Stevens rolls the dice with Brown to start, both for familiarity with that starting group and so he can leave Hayward to run the second unit offense. Brown’s presence will put a lot more pressure on Irving to run the show in the starting five and keep the ball moving, but it’s a better option than relying on Terry Rozier to play point guard for a couple of stints per night.
Who takes Smart’s minutes?