Celtics

2020 NBA Playoffs: Health the most important factor for Celtics' title run

Celtics

The 2019-20 Celtics do not lack talent. Boston trots out four former, current, or soon-to-be All-Stars in its starting lineup.

This Celtics squad does not lack chemistry. A year after a misfit roster contributed to Boston’s early playoff exit, this year’s team was constructed with a Kumbaya focus and players genuinely seem to enjoy each other’s company, both on and off the court.

But if these Celtics get bounced early in the bubble playoffs, there will likely be one culprit, something that the team has most certainly lacked in recent seasons: Health.

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Yup, when the internet nicknames your team the "Hospital Celtics" because of a propensity to be without top talent, it’s not a great sign. Before this season paused, Boston had its top 7 rotation players available in the same game only eight times. The team’s preferred starting 5 played just 188 minutes together in 17 games.

There were times this season when players wondered out loud if this Celtics squad would ever get to see what they were capable of at full health. The Orlando restart may finally give Boston a chance to better explore its true potential.

Or injuries could leave this team forever questioning what could have been.

The Celtics will enter Friday’s first seeding game against the Milwaukee Bucks at near full health. Yes, the team is treading cautiously with Kemba Walker and the sore left knee that has lingered since the start of the calendar year, but Boston is betting that it can be close to full strength in the postseason if it manages Walker’s workload on the ramp there.

 

The Celtics will still be crossing their fingers that no one else gets dinged up — or worse.

Gordon Hayward is further removed from his ankle woes at the start of his Boston tenure and Marcus Smart has rarely been able to enter a playoffs while not rushing himself back from an injury. The Celtics must hope that Smart doesn’t puncture something diving through the plexiglass near the scorer’s table because he refuses to social distance from loose balls.

Health is particularly important for this Celtics team because this group is thin on experience. While Boston can lean heavily on its core 5 — Walker, Hayward, Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — a group that could account for upwards of 75 percent of total minutes in the postseason, the team is still thin on playoff experience at the other end of the roster. Even if veterans Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, and Brad Wanamaker chip away at what’s left over for playing time, the team is still dangerously young outside its top 8.

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In fact, Boston has seven rookies with zero playoff experience. Second-year big man Robert Williams barely had a cup off coffee in last year’s postseason. It would be asking a lot of any young player to give more than spot minutes, though a breakout from any of them would certainly alleviate depth concerns.

All of which leaves Boston one ill-timed sprained ankle away from its playoff march getting exponentially more difficult.

From the team that brought you Kyrie Irving’s knee, Gordon Hayward’s ankle, Isaiah Thomas’ hip, Kevin Garnett’s knee, and Larry Bird’s back, the injury bug is a real concern. This year’s team yearns to see what’s possible if the bug elects to chomp elsewhere.

Yes, the Celtics have the necessary talent to make a playoff trek and health woes might be the only thing that could really put a spoke in Boston's wheel.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Bucks, which begins Friday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.