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Let’s say the rest of the Celtics’ roster is healthy on April 14. Can they get out of the first round sans Kyrie Irving?
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Steve Aschburner: This might be purely hypothetical, because Marcus Smart’s right thumb isn’t likely to be healed and rehabbed fully by the start of the postseason. But I’ll play along, in which case my answer is: yes, the Celtics can survive the first round and advance. Washington, Miami and Milwaukee are in the bottom half of the conference bracket for legitimate reasons. Boston is well-coached and would have enough talent at both ends to exploit the specific flaws of whichever of those teams – Wizards, Heat or Bucks – it winds up facing. The bigger question is, do we want to see the Celtics advance if they’ll inevitably wind up overmatched and missing Irving in a subsequent round? We can’t engineer outcomes, of course, but as the playoffs grind on, I’d rather see a team with all its key pieces that might get better round by round, rather than one thinned by injuries that would have a built-in excuse. Boston vs. Cleveland, in particular, would be disappointing to endure with Irving watching in street clothes.
Shaun Powell: Can they get out of the first round? Yes, of course; this team has played relatively well without Kyrie Irving and appear good enough to beat a No. 7 seed. Will they? Well, that depends on the matchup of course, with the wild card being the Wizards with a sharper John Wall; in that scenario, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Washington finally develop a sense of consistency with its star guard back in the fold and pull off the win. Either way, I never saw this as being the Celtics’ year even with a healthy Kyrie. Once Gordon Hayward went down, Boston had “2018-19” written all over it. And now, it’s official.
John Schuhmann: First of all, I’m assuming that “the rest of the Celtics’ roster” doesn’t include Marcus Smart or Daniel Theis. No matter if/when Smart returns, the Celtics can win a series. They’re 12-6 without Irving and 6-5 without him against other playoff teams, with terrific defensive numbers in both cases. They still have great length on the wings, an elite defensive frontline in Aron Baynes and Al Horford, and a bulldog at the point in Terry Rozier. The question is whether there’s enough offense there. A first-round series against any of the teams currently 6-8 in the East is probably close to a 50-50 prospect, though Washington is probably the team the Celtics would least like to face.
Sekou Smith: The first round is something the Celtics can manage even without Kyrie available. They’re that good defensively, that well coached and plenty talented enough. It won’t be easy. I didn’t expect it to be if they had a reasonably healthy group heading into the postseason anyway, because the Celtics have some deficiencies (namely size and depth) that were going to be issues for them in the postseason. But they’ve shown themselves to be a resilient bunch. This entire season, from the first five minutes of the season opener, has been about Brad Stevens and his ability to make the Celtics go, no matter who is available and in uniform. The Celtics have a framework that produces results for whatever combinations Stevens utilizes. I expect more of that in the first round of the playoffs, from Stevens and whatever healthy bodies he’ll have at his disposal.
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