Celtics Look to Collectively Fill Thomas’ Void
NEW YORK – Just as the Boston Celtics’ preferred starting rotation was beginning to gain rhythm, it took another blow Wednesday night in the form of an injury to Isaiah Thomas.
The All-Star point guard did not travel with the team to Brooklyn after suffering a bone bruise on his right knee during Wednesday’s home win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. As a result, he will miss Friday’s game against the Nets and Sunday’s contest in Philadelphia.
Thomas suffered the injury early during the third quarter Wednesday night. He began to favor the knee after the injury occurred, but was able to keep playing. His condition, however, has since worsened.
“He felt OK through the rest of the game, but was really hurting and swelled up last night,” Brad Stevens said Friday morning ahead of Celtics shootaround. “We’re hopeful to have him back after the trip, but I’m not sure. I think that he’ll be evaluated day-to-day in Boston and he’ll go through as much treatment as possible.
“He wants to be back, he wants to be here, he wants to be playing, but he was sore yesterday, and those bone bruises are a little unpredictable.”
In the meantime, Boston will have to look for other sources of offense while Thomas is sidelined.
It will take a lot to make up for his Eastern Conference-leading scoring average (29.2 points per game) and team-leading assist tally (6.0 assists per game), but the Celtics have plenty of depth that should help them fill the void.
“You’re not going to (make up for Thomas’ absence) with one person,” said Stevens. “We’re going to have to do it by committee.
“We’ve played games without him before and everybody has a role that they have to do really, really well. For some that’s a higher-scoring role, for others it’s more of a distributor role, for others its an energy role, for others it’s a rebounding role. Everybody’s just gotta do their role well.”
A lot will be pushed onto Marcus Smart’s plate during the next couple of games as he slides into the starting point guard role. The third-year guard hopes to take on a combination of the responsibilities Stevens listed above, while relying on his teammates to contribute as well.
“We’re definitely going to have to move the ball a lot more,” said Smart. “We know they’re going to try to load up on us, things like that, but even with Isaiah out we still have guys that can pick up the slack, so we gotta be able to do that these next two games.”
Birthday boy Terry Rozier is familiar with picking up the slack during a situation like this. When Thomas missed four contests earlier this season with a groin injury, Rozier stepped up in a big way. He averaged 11.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists over the four-game stretch, while turning the ball over just once during 104 minutes of playing time.
“I just gotta take my time and be aggressive,” said Rozier, who turned 23 on Friday. “I gotta look for my teammates, look for myself, and we’ve just gotta play with great poise, stay aggressive and just look for our options. We have a lot of guys that can score the ball.”
It’s unfortunate that Boston’s preferred starting five will be broken up yet again this weekend. The combination of Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford have played only 28 of a possible 68 games together as they have been plagued with injuries all season long.
That being said, Boston has plenty of players it can turn to, like Smart, Rozier, Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown, and others, who should be able to collectively fill Thomas’ void.