BOSTON — Kyrie Irving sounds like a player who believes the Boston Celtics will still be playing when Marcus Smart is healthy enough to return to game action.
On the same day Smart addressed his health and the frustratingly slow recovery ahead, Irving not-so subtly hinted that he’s hoping to hold the fort until Smart can get back on the floor.
"We’ve got a few more wins to get; six weeks is not that long a time,” said Irving. "I think I can manage until then.”
Smart suffered a torn oblique during the final week of the regular season and the team set a 4-6 week recovery before he could return to basketball activities. Smart admitted that he’s still in pain with certain movements and said that Tuesday was the first day he was “able to walk without grimacing in any pain.”
Smart is hopeful to be on the bench for Game 2 when the Celtics host the Pacers on Wednesday night, and said he’s ready to navigate the slow rehab back to playing. Irving, who missed all of last year’s playoffs after a pair of knee surgeries, feels for Smart being sidelined.
“It sucks being hurt in the playoffs,” said Irving. "I’ve been hurt. So as much as you want to stay connected to the team and stay engaged, you’re dealing with an injury at the same time. You’re not getting a chance to play the game that you love, so that's taken away from me, I can understand how hard it is. I just try to be as inclusive as possible. I know how hard it is mentally going home.”
Irving and his Celtics teammates seemed to ratchet up their intensity in Game 1, trying to fill the obvious void with Smart’s absence.
“That’s always what I’ve been about,” said Irving. "I think I’ve elevated that level of play on both ends of the floor, to be able to do it, and also my stamina. But Smarty brings something that you can’t really teach, just the intangibles of the game, knowing players on the floor, knowing the flow of the game, how Smarty is and just what he brings to our team in terms of leadership. It’s a big time miss for us, I said it the other day, I miss him.
"He makes my job a lot easier, just because I don’t have to dribble the ball as much or create as much, you have a second lead guard who can go out there and just really make decisions and make good decisions for our team. It’s an adjustment, but it’s OK.”
A six-week return might put Smart back on the floor for the Eastern Conference Finals. That means navigating the first two rounds — and a potential matchup with top-seeded Milwaukee in the semifinals — without Smart.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens doesn’t want anybody trying to replace Smart but instead trying to replace individual aspects of what Smart brings to the table.
"Marcus Smart does 12 things that nobody else does, everybody’s gotta do one of them,” said Stevens. "Like, nobody can be Marcus Smart, we’re not asking anybody to be Marcus Smart so, just like last year, nobody needed to be Kyrie when he was out, nobody needed to be Gordon [Hayward] when he was out. Do what you do best and do a little bit harder and let the chips fall where they may.”
Echoed Gordon Hayward: "You just, collectively as a group, have to try to pick up everything that [Smart] does. He’s not a guy you can replace.”
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