The Celtics’ injury-plagued season began with a devastating blow on opening night and continued with steady jabs to the body throughout the regular season. The latest punch to the team's once–ambitious postseason plans landed Saturday, as the team announced Kyrie Irving would miss 3–6 weeks after undergoing surgery to remove a tension wire in his left knee.
How will Kyrie’s injury impact the NBA playoffs? And where do the Celtics go from here? Here are three quick thoughts on the latest injury news out of Boston:
Calm down: The Celtics’ season isn’t over
Barring a collapse from the Wizards, Boston will most likely face Miami or Milwaukee in the first round. While both teams present obvious challenges for the Celtics if Irving is sidelined, neither is without their flaws. Both squads are dealing with injury issues of their own and the C’s still match-up respectably in a defense-dominated playoff series.
When Irving has missed time this season, Terry Rozier has taken advantage of his increased opportunity, averaging 17.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 5.5 APG in eight starts. His shooting (38.8 FG%) has been erratic, but his ability to facilitate and create off the dribble has gotten the job done for Boston, which has gone 6–2 with Rozier in the starting lineup. With Marcus Morris and Jayson Tatum taking on larger offensive roles, Brad Stevens has been able to get by without his superstar guard—and just might be able to do the same in a seven-game series. Jaylen Brown is expected to return Sunday, giving the C's another capable scorer to help shoulder the load with Irving out.
While the Celtics are not the same offensive threat without their All-Star point guard, they are just as pesky on defense when he's not on the floor. In fact, Boston's defense has actually been significantly better with Irving off the floor this season. Boston should be able to put up a fight even with Irving out and may be able to stall long enough for him to return to form and carry his team into the second round.
The Raptors can now cruise to the No. 1 seed
Toronto enters Saturday's action holding a 4.5 game lead on the Celtics with just nine games remaining on the schedule. Rather than worry about locking up the top position in the conference, the Raptors can pace themselves down the home stretch and ensure they enter the postseason at full health. The Celtics are also more or less locked into their seeding, holding a six-game lead on the Cavs for the No. 2 seed.
There’s a silver lining here for the Celtics
Even if Kyrie is unable to return this season, or he does but Boston falls in the first round, the Celtics did get some good news Saturday.
Not only was the “minimally-invasive procedure” able to relieve the tension in Irving’s knee in the short term, but it also revealed that the fractured patella Irving suffered in 2015 has completely healed and his knee is structurally sound overall. That’s a huge relief for an organization that’s already dealing with one superstar recovering from a disastrous injury. The Celtics can live with an early playoff exit in Year One of a drastic rebuild—but to enter 2018–19 with two stars on the mend would have been a cruel twist to Danny Ainge's slow but massive overhaul. After all, the Celtics were never all-in on 2018 anyways. Ainge has had his eyes on the horizon for years and can now stick to his plan knowing there's no long-term damage to Irving's knees.