The NBA playoffs are set to begin in a week, but the timing could hardly be worse for Boston Celtics.
In the team’s final home game of the regular season on Sunday, forward Jayson Tatum and guard Marcus Smart exited the 116-108 loss to the Orlando Magic early with injuries.
Although there’s no timetable yet for the injuries, neither is expected to keep the players out for the rest of the season. Still, both are crucial to the Celtics’ playoff chances, and the team hopes each player can avoid aggravating the injuries any further.
Tatum leaves with left shin contusion
Tatum only played six minutes and missed both of his shots before he exited Sunday’s game. The team quickly announced that he would not return to the game.
The 21-year-old had actually been dealing with shin contusion from before the contest, although head coach Brad Stevens apparently was not aware of that fact. Tatum said that his leg felt funny when he jumped, so he did not return.
Tatum is the Celtics’ second leading scorer at 15.9 points per game, so his absence would be acutely missed. Boston dropped both games he previously missed — to the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings — by at least 19 points, although they do have plenty of depth on the wings with Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown off the bench.
Smart avoids worse diagnosis with oblique bruise
Smart lasted a bit longer than Tatum, as he left the game with 6:15 left in the third quarter. Stevens described his injury as an oblique "bruise" rather than a muscle strain, so he may have avoided a longer-term injury.
Smart is not the scoring threat that Tatum is, but he’s an invaluable defender who has started most of the season. Boston dropped its only game without him by seven to the Brooklyn Nets.
If Smart has to miss extended time, Hayward or Brown would likely replace him in the starting lineup with backup point guard Terry Rozier also seeing an uptick in minutes. Fortunately, Smart was seen walking around the locker room after the game, so he may not be out for long.
How does this affect the Celtics’ playoff hopes?
Since the Celtics are locked into the No. 4 seed, it’s very likely that Stevens will opt to rest Tatum and Smart in Tuesday’s regular season finale against the Washington Wizards. Even if they both get a clean bill of health, it’s not worth risking injuries in an ostensively meaningless games.
As previously illustrated, the duo will be crucial to the team’s first-round series against the Indiana Pacers, so the team will be waiting to hear back about testing results with bated breath. Tatum was particularly critical in Friday's 117-97 win over the Pacers, since he led the team with 22 points.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Boston will see how Smart's body responds in the next 24-48 hours, although there’s no timetable on how long Tatum may need to fully heal.
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