BOSTON – The road to a strong finish for the Celtics will, for now at least, not include Isaiah Thomas.
The team announced on Thursday afternoon that he will miss the next two games – at Brooklyn on Friday and Philadelphia on Sunday – with a right knee bruise.
While it doesn’t appear to be a long-term issue, it does deliver a blow of sorts to Boston’s quest to find a nice rhythm with their preferred starting five which has compiled an impressive 21-7 record this season.
But that’s the problem.
We’re 68 games into the season and Boston’s best starting unit has missed 40 games together, which will only be added to in the next few days.
Some will see Thomas sitting out as Boston’s version of “strategic rest” for one of its best players - he's the Celtics' top scorer and is the NBA's second-leading scorer at 29.2 points per game - with the playoffs right around the corner.
Thomas suffered the injury near the end of the third quarter Wednesday in a 117-104 win over Minnesota, but still managed to play later in the fourth.
While there’s never a good time to get hurt, the timing of Thomas missing more games is about as good as it gets.
On Friday, they face a Brooklyn team that has the worst record in the NBA (12-54) although they have played better, more competitive recently.
And on Sunday, they have an afternoon matinee against Philadelphia (24-43), which has played teams closer of late, but still ranks among the NBA’s worst teams.
The Celtics host Washington on Monday night. The Wizards trail Boston by a game-and-a-half for the No. 2 seed in the East.
The silver lining now is the same silver lining that we’ve seen from Boston this season.
Playing without a key player has afforded an opportunity for another Celtic or two, to step up and contribute in a more meaningful way.
We have seen some of Jaylen Brown’s brightest moments come this season as a fill-in for Jae Crowder or Avery Bradley.
Jonas Jerebko has had strong performances as a replacement for Al Horford.
And guys on the bench who have had an elevated role courtesy of injuries, have also shown an ability to contribute.
Indeed, the next-man-up mentality has worked wonders for Boston this season and has been a vital cog in the team’s success which currently has them with the second-best record in the East.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has options at his disposal for a replacement, but will likely go with Marcus Smart at the point, which then moves Terry Rozier up the pecking order where he will be the team’s backup point guard.
Whoever gets the starting nod, it won’t matter.
This team is better built to finish out the season successfully with one or two players out, than they were a year ago.
But for them to get past the first round and continue to progress through the playoffs, it has to be a collective, team effort.
Because if Thomas or any other top-of-the-rotation player for the Celtics isn’t healthy enough to play, Boston’s dreams of a long run in the playoffs will become a short-lived postseason nightmare.