Celtics' frontline decimated by injury, handing them greatest challenge of Brad Stevens Era

Celtics' frontline decimated by injury, handing them greatest challenge of Brad Stevens Era

BOSTON -- We've often seen the Boston Celtics play their way through injuries and illnesses.

But things are different this time around. 

Usually, they've had a hodgepodge of ailments to various players at different positions. But the C's have now received a more precise, more painful blow: Their frontline has taken most of the recent hits, cutting into their already thin pool of big men.

This was never a position of tremendous depth for the Celtics, so the setbacks have cut even deeper than previous injuries. 

Being without so many key big men has exposed the Celts' lack of physicality and rebounding strength, two areas exploited in Boston’s last two games -- both losses -- by Detroit and Phoenix, respectively.

Al Horford (patellofemoral pain syndrome, left knee) is out indefinitely, although indications are he’ll be back soon.


Guerschon Yabusele has a right ankle sprain suffered against New Orleans on Dec. 10 and he’s not due to return in the near future.

Now you can add Aron Baynes to the walking wounded. He suffered a fracture in the fourth metacarpal of his left hand Wednesday night that will sideline him for an extensive, but yet-to-be-determined period of time. 

That leaves the Green team extremely thin and green when it comes to bigs. 

And with a roster that stands at the NBA-maximum 15 players with guaranteed contracts, it’s not like the Celtics can go out and sign a free agent big man to help. 

They still have a two-way contract available after waiving Walter Lemon Jr. earlier this month. However, it’s unlikely they can sign someone who can come in and get up to speed quickly enough to be a contributor. 

So the more likely course of action is to batten down the hatches and ride out this storm of injuries, hoping they’ll have a healthy contingent of players in time for the postseason. In the meantime, the big-man rotation consists of Daniel Theis and rookie Robert Williams III, along with a host of other wings who may find themselves called upon to play one of the big forward positions.


It is not an ideal situation, obviously. 

But if there is a silver lining to all this, it’s that Brad Stevens continues to get opportunities to look at different combinations that, were it not for all the injuries, he might not get to see on a more consistent basis. 

Still, the lack of healthy bodies in the frontcourt is indeed Boston’s number one problem right now, a problem that doesn't have a clear-cut solution on the horizon. 

Because even if Horford returns this weekend or early next week, the Celtics will still be shorthanded withoiut Baynes and Yabusele. While neither gobbles up a ton of minutes, the absence of players cuts into Boston’s margin for error because of its impact on the team’s overall depth. 

However, these Celtics still have a relatively high level of confidence despite the losses and injuries. That speaks to how they view themselves as a championship contender, regardless of who's in the lineup or not. 

But that title-contention belief only adds to what distinguishes this most recent set of setbacks from previous injuries.


This team was built to contend for a title and, with that, opened the season with a tremendous amount of unprecedented expectations in the Brad Stevens era. 

And so these injuries cut deeper than previous ones because of their potential impact on what this team is locked on achieving -- winning a title -- in a season in which the C's have a roster that can legitimately make that goal achievable.

Yes, the Celtics have shown a resiliency in the face of injuries that has to be respected and admired, for sure. 

But with the expectations, and the fact that the injuries have hit them so hard at one particular position, overcoming these injuries will test them unlike anything we’ve seen in previous Stevens-coached teams. 

And that only adds to what has been a unique, very different challenge for this battle-tested bunch on the injury front. 

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LeBron James doesn't regret breaking Celtics-Lakers routine to watch son play

LeBron James doesn't regret breaking Celtics-Lakers routine to watch son play

BOSTON -- How LeBron James got to Boston on Monday afternoon is up for debate.

One report suggested the Los Angeles Lakers star took a private helicopter from Springfield, Mass., to TD Garden ahead of his game against the Boston Celtics. The Athletic's Joe Vardon reported that James rode in a car like anyone else.

James quipped after the game that he "walked" the 90-mile distance: "I walked and they didn’t call it."

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What's undisputed is that James messed with his pregame routine Monday to watch his son Bronny James, a freshman at Sierra Canyon (Calif.) High School, play in Springfield's Hoophall Classic.

Bronny's squad played at 1 p.m. ET, meaning James had to attend the Lakers' pregame meeting Monday morning, haul out to Springfield to watch his son, and then hightail it back to play a primetime NBA game against a quality opponent.

According to Vardon, James napped in the car on the way to and from his son's game to try to maintain some normalcy. Not that he minded the disruption.

"I’d break every routine in my life for my family," James said after the game. "Listen, if the gods are with me, they’re going to make sure I get back safe, but my routine was broke today. 

"But I could care less if I’m seeing my family, my wife and my daughter and my kids. It was a unique opportunity for me to see my son play live that close to where I’m at."

The Celtics likely are glad James logged the extra travel; the Lakers star scored just 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting (with seven rebounds and 13 assists) as Boston cruised to a 139-107 win.

Bronny also struggled Monday, failing to score in Sierra Canyon's loss to Paul VI. But the final scores were the only issue James had with his busy travel day in Massachusetts.

"I didn’t mind going down to Springfield to check the game out,” James said. “The only bad thing about today was that I took two L’s. The 'James Gang' took two L’s, but there are always better days."

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Why LeBron James reportedly arrived at Celtics-Lakers via helicopter

Why LeBron James reportedly arrived at Celtics-Lakers via helicopter

LeBron James did what any good dad would do Monday -- with a little extra help.

The Los Angeles Lakers star's son, Bronny, plays for Sierra Canyon (Calif.) High School, which happened to be in Springfield, Mass., on Monday to compete in the Hoophall Classic.

Sierra Canyon played Paul VI at 1 p.m. ET, so James, whose Lakers were in town to play the Boston Celtics on Monday night, decided to go watch his son play.

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James then had to hightail it from Springfield to Boston -- about 92 miles and a 90-minute drive on a good day -- to get ready for Celtics-Lakers.

But rather than sit in traffic on the Mass Pike, James took a private helicopter, according to The Athletic's Jared Weiss.

That's a true helicopter parent.

James' express mode of transportation apparently worked: He arrived at the Garden on time and didn't miss the team's shootaround that morning, according to Lakers coach Frank Vogel.

"I saw him at the meeting this morning, I saw him on my phone this afternoon (at the Hoophall Classic), and I saw him in the locker room tonight," Vogel said before Monday's game, adding he had "no idea" how James got to or from Boston.

Sierra Canyon's game wasn't without incident, either: Bronny was held scoreless in the team's loss to Paul VI and a fan was caught throwing a piece of candy at him, prompting an admonishment from LeBron on Twitter.

The Celtics are hoping James' busy day wears him down a bit as they aim snap a three-game losing streak.

UPDATE (Tuesday, Jan. 21, 7 a.m. ET): Apparently James didn't take a chopper to Boston, after all.

The Athletic's Joe Vardon reported that the Lakers star made the Springfield-to-Boston trip in a car, citing someone who was with him for the drive.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Lakers, which begins Monday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.