Isaiah Thomas returns to Celtics starting lineup vs. Hornets

Isaiah Thomas returns to Celtics starting lineup vs. Hornets

BOSTON – Head coach Brad Stevens confirmed all indications are that Isaiah Thomas will in fact return to the Celtics’ starting lineup tonight against the Charlotte Hornets. 

“He went through everything and felt pretty good,” Stevens said.

The return of Thomas to the lineup could not come soon enough. 

In the four games he missed with a right groin injury, the Celtics (13-12) lost all but one.

And in the three losses (Toronto, at Oklahoma City and at San Antonio) one of the keys to the defeat was Boston’s inability to execute effectively in the fourth quarter. 

That’s when Thomas has played some of his best basketball this season. 

He leads the NBA in fourth quarter free throws (4.0) and is tied for third with Washington’s John Wall for points in the fourth (7.7).

On Thursday, Thomas and his wife Kayla hosted a holiday event for victims of the Cambridge fires earlier this month. 

During the event, Thomas discussed how challenging it has been for him to sit out while the Celtics struggle, particularly with the problems they’ve had in the fourth quarter. 

 “It’s been very tough because I know there are areas in which I can help them,” Thomas said. “The fourth quarter is where I kind of do a lot of positive things and help my team in that area. It’s been frustrating but at the same time we have to have a short memory and keep going, keep grinding and hopefully we can protect home court (tonight) and get a string of wins with this road trip we got coming up.”

Thomas, named to his first All-Star team a year ago, is averaging a career-high 26.0 points per game in addition to leading the Celtics in assists with 6.2 per game. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics may have caught an even bigger break with the Hornets (14-12) having to play without their leading scorer, former UConn star Kemba Walker who is not with the team for personal reasons. He is expected to rejoin the team in time for their next game at Atlanta on Saturday. Walker is averaging a career-high 22.6 points per game along with 5.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds. 

Irving's procedure means Celtics may add player via 'hardship roster exception'

Irving's procedure means Celtics may add player via 'hardship roster exception'

With Kyrie Irving undergoing a “minimally invasive procedure” on Saturday, the Boston Celtics may look to add a player via the “hardship roster exception” that only teams that are significantly impacted by injuries, are eligible for. 

MORE - Doctor: Irving could return in 'three to four weeks'

The Celtics won’t have a clear sense of what the timetable will be for Irving’s return until after his procedure is performed. 

But it’s likely to be at least a couple weeks which at the earliest would put Irving’s return just before the playoffs. 

In order to qualify for the NBA’s hardship roster exception, at least four players must miss a minimum of three consecutive games, and later be deemed to be out for an additional two weeks. 

Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) and Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee) are out for the season, and Marcus Smart (right thumb) recently underwent surgery that will keep him sidelined for at least another five weeks. 

An independent doctor will determine if the extent of the aforementioned injuries as well as the recovery time for Irving, meet the two-week criteria to be eligible for the hardship roster exception. 

Once that’s determined, Boston will be given a hardship roster exception to use on a player for the remainder of the regular season but won’t be eligible for the postseason. 

If Boston does add a player, look for him to come from the Gatorade League, possibly their G-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. 

Boston has a collection of guards who have helped fill the void left by Irving’s absence, but Boston has not been able to address the loss of Daniel Theis. 

Keep an eye on former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 16.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Red Claws this season. 

MORE - Hayward gives update on rehab

Boston has a 45-day cap on the use of its two-way players with the parent team, but that limitation ends tomorrow which means guard/forward Jabari Bird and guard Kadeem Allen can earn the league minimum for every day they are with the Celtics going forward in the regular season. That can provide some depth to a Celtics team that because of injuries, can use every healthy body they can find.


Doctor: Irving could return in 'three to four weeks'

Doctor: Irving could return in 'three to four weeks'

Kyrie Irving could be back on the court in time for the Celtics to begin the playoffs.

Or not.

Irving will have what the Celts are describing as a "minimally invasive procedure" on his injured left knee Saturday. NBC Sports Boston talked to Dr. Christopher Chihlas from Southcoast Health -- who has not examined Irving but is familiar with his type of injury -- about how long Irving may be sidelined.

"A minimally invasive procedure is basically an arthroscopy," said Dr. Chihlas. "His return to play is mostly dependent on what is done . . . If it's just a cleanout, as we're being told, then -- best-case scenario -- we could see him back playing in three to four weeks."

But, he added, "it could be double that . . . depending upon what exactly is found . . . 

"The key here is the patella fracture (which Irving suffered during the 2015 playoffs). My feeling is that he's suffering a bit of the consequence of the patella fracture, which is a fracture into the knee joint . . . [He] may need to have this done periodically to get him through the rest of his career."