INJURIES are arguably the worst part of sports and yesterday we were robbed of another NBA All-Star. Knee qualms have hampered Kyrie Irving’s second half of the season so much so the Boston Celtics confirmed he will miss the rest of the year, including this year’s playoffs. It has left Celtics fans pondering the ‘what if’, after already losing Hayward minutes into their 2017-18 campaign. The latest injury setback doesn’t just have implications on Boston though, with a handful of playoff teams out East affected by Irving’s absence as well.
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WHEN news broke that the Celtics would enter the playoffs without Irving, I’m sure that the likes of Washington, Miami and Milwaukee were all rubbing their hands together. Stuck in a logjam of teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race, a date with Boston in the first round just got a hell of a lot easier.
THE Celtics are definitely more vulnerable without Kyrie in uniform. As it stands right now they sit in the 2nd seed and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they move from that spot. If the standings stayed the way they currently are Boston would clash with the Wizards in the first-round in a series that could be considered a bit of a toss-up. A matchup with Boston is a helluva lot more desirable now than facing the No. 1 seeded Raptors or the No. 3 seeded Cavaliers.
DON’T sleep on this Celtics team minus Kyrie though. President Brad Stevens is the likely Coach of the Year and he is fast establishing his reputation as one of the best coaches in the entire NBA. He is a master at galvanising his guys and preaching the ‘next guy up’ mantra, which has seen Boston go 12-6 without their All-Star guard this year. Bigger roles for younger guys has seen players we have never heard of (yes Kadeem Allen I am talking to you) thrown into the fire. It might not mean the Celtics will become world champions this year, but that experience and exposure is an invaluable experience for players.
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STEVENS deserves all the credit he is getting, but there’s no hiding the fact that their offense struggles without Irving. Whoever they meet in the playoffs will fancy their chances against the skeleton team that Boston will enter the postseason with. Their first-round opponents aren’t the only beneficiary’s though with the Cleveland Cavaliers, once again, facing an easier path to the Finals, with a potential second-round matchup against Boston or the 7th seed.
I can guarantee that the Cavs will happily face the Bucks, Heat, Wizards or half of the Celtics rather than potentially squaring off against their one-time star. Irving’s trade to their inter-conference rivals before the season began left Cleveland in an uncertain position and it has taken them the full 79 game slate so far to find their mojo. They can afford to spend 8-12 games in the first two round of the East playoffs finding their mojo and strengthening their championship chances without being in a real dangerous spot.
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WE have seen how Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have grown this year without Hayward on the wing, so giving those players some big minutes in the postseason will only help Boston in the long run. The same can be said for Terry Rozier now that Irving is down and out. Rozier led the team in minutes in the month of March, and while he is struggling with his shot since Irving left the lineup, the experience he is getting as a full-time starter is a perk that money can’t buy.
THE news is devastating for Irving and Boston faithful, however, there is still some silver lining. This year’s injury woes aren’t a new problem for Irving with a handful of setbacks occurring throughout his seven-year NBA career to date. If missing this years postseason allows him to be 100% healthy and potentially avoid further injury then it’s definitely worth it. Without Hayward their chances of winning it all this year were slim, so getting their two All-Stars back to full strength for a title run in 2018-19 makes sense.
DESPITE the impressive depth and coaching mastery in Massachusetts, an NBA title is pretty much out of the question now for Boston. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them win their first-round matchup, but I think that’s the ceiling this year for the Celtics. Prioritising long-term health and exposing their core to the playoffs might see them whipped off the floor in four games. It puts them in good stead for the future though and while it sucks to be losing Irving’s brilliance, a fully fit Celtics outfit is one to fear in the future.
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