It’s been a trying last few days for the Celtics. They lost Kyrie Irving to a knee procedure that’ll cost him as much as six months. And now they’re watching as teams in the East line up to get the chance to play them, suspecting that the Celtics are weakened without Irving.
With Boston locked into the No. 2 spot in the East, suddenly the Nos. 3 and 7 positions look very promising. Seemingly, a good chunk of the fan bases of teams in contention for those spots are feeling good about their team’s chances.
But will it be that easy against Boston? The Celtics have played better than expected without Irving (and for that matter, without Gordon Hayward) and that’s a credit to their aggressive and disciplined play. A rotation that leans toward youth is giving balanced scoring and solid defense and embracing the philosophy of coach Brad Stevens.
Still, the Celtics were taken by surprise with the Irving development; they fully expected Irving to heal up in time for the playoffs. Jackie MacMullan of ESPN takes a closer look at the Celtics minus Irving:
When asked if Irving should have considered undergoing what was described as “minimally invasive surgery” earlier in the season, as opposed to March 24, Stevens said he wasn’t in the business of “what ifs.’’
“There was no reason to think it was going to be an issue,” Stevens said. “He had played with it for 2½ years. It’s the bacterial infection that’s the issue. My guess would be [the infection] was in there before and that’s how they found it.”
Stevens stressed that Irving’s knee, which was surgically repaired in 2015 following a fractured kneecap, was “structurally sound.”
As for how the team will fill yet another long-term void for a key injured player, a process that began for Boston a mere five minutes into its season when coveted free-agent signee Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome ankle injury that has shelved him for all of the 2017-18 campaign, Stevens promised that his remaining players will not concede anything.
“I believe in the guys in our locker room,” Stevens said. “I think they believe in themselves. That’s the most important thing. We’ve got a tough group of guys in there.’’