Without Smart, Boston's Defense Will Be Tested Out West
Celtics Nation collectively held its breath Saturday night after Marcus Smart suffered what appeared to be a serious lower left leg injury during the fourth quarter of a 96-95 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, all could breathe a sigh of relief Sunday afternoon when it was announced that Smart had been diagnosed with a Grade I tear of his left medial gastrocnemius (part of the calf muscle), an injury which should only sideline him for two to three weeks.
According to head coach Brad Stevens, the diagnosis was about as positive of an outcome as the team could have hoped for. Although the last couple of days have still been agonizing for the All-Defensive guard.
“I did think leaving on Saturday night that we were at least hopeful that it was what it was,” Stevens said Monday evening after the team landed in San Francisco to start a five-game, West Coast trip. “So that was encouraging. But probably didn’t make it feel any better these first couple of days. I know Marcus was really sore yesterday and he still was using crutches, so we’ll see how long it takes. He did not come with us so obviously we’ll get more information throughout the week and next week again.”
In the meantime, the Celtics will have to find a way to improve their defensive play despite the absence of their most talented individual on that end of the court.
“It's a challenge that our best defensive player is out,” said veteran center Daniel Theis. “But now everybody has to take the challenge and step up as a team. He's missing but now other guys can show – basically everybody on our team, we've gotta prove to each other we are an excellent defensive team.”
Such has been a struggle of late for the Celtics, who have yet to establish consistency on the defensive end. With that being said, they are coming off of one of their best defensive efforts of the season, having held the defending champions to under 100 points Saturday night.
Carrying such momentum out West won’t be easy, however, especially given the difficulty of their upcoming list of opponents.
Over the next eight days, the C’s will face off against the Golden State Warriors, the Sacramento Kings, the LA Clippers, the Phoenix Suns, and the Utah Jazz, respectively. Four out of those five teams currently have winning records, including the Clippers and Jazz, who own the top two win-loss marks in the entire NBA. Sacramento, at 8-11, is the lone exception; however, the Kings are still ranked as one of the top 10 offenses in the league.
Fortunately, the Celtics should strengthen their backcourt at some point during the trip, as Payton Pritchard continues to near his return from a right MCL sprain. The rookie point guard traveled with the team to San Francisco and was expected to go through portions of Monday evening’s practice.
Pritchard will not play Tuesday night against the Warriors, but he should be back in the lineup soon eating up some of Smart’s vacant minutes.