Should spate of injuries change our expectations for Celtics?

Should spate of injuries change our expectations for Celtics?

BOSTON -- With so many bodies either not coming back this season or out indefinitely, Celtics coach Brad Stevens is going to have to tweak a few things with his roster. 
Should fans do the same in terms of their expectations?


When the season began, the Celts were on everyone's short list to be the team in the East to finally dethrone the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even after Gordon Hayward went down just five minutes into the season, the C's trajectory was still upward bound. 
They've had their share of setbacks since then, though they've managed to play through most of them and remain successful. But they reached their nadir this week. 
In addition to the aforementioned Hayward (dislocated left ankle), who is not expected back this season, Boston has also lost key reserve Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee) for the season. In addition . . .

-- Marcus Smart has a torn tendon in his right hand and will get a second opinionto see what are his options, if any, on how to play with the injury.
--  Jaylen Brown has a concussion and has been ruled out all this week.

-- Al Horford is feverish to the point where he missed the Celtics' last game and won't play tonight against Washington.
-- Oh yeah, one more thing. Kyrie Irving has a sore left knee that's expected to keep him out multiple games -- including tonight's -- between now and the start of the playoffs next month. 
And that's not all. Jayson Tatum has some low back tightness, though he's expected to play tonight. And even Boston's end-of-the-bench guys like Shane Larkin (sore left knee) aren't immune to what has been a season-long stretch of injuries.
"I've never been in a season like this," Stevens said. "And it started right out of the gate this way with Gordon. The rest of the year, dealt with a lot of what would be small, week-to-week, or a couple of weeks type of things."
But as the calendar shrinks between the regular season and the playoffs, so does the ability to recover health-wise and still have time to have some semblance of good playing rhythm headed into the postseason. 
Marcus Morris spent the first couple of months of the season playing limited minutes or not at all due to left knee soreness. Now healthy, he can understand all too well how frustrated his teammates are at not being ready to roll health-wise at this point in the season. 
"It's definitely unfortunate," Morris said. "It's the NBA, though. There's a lot of games, a lot of wear and tear on guy's bodies. That's why you got 15 players."
And rest assured, the Celtics have every intention of using all of them. 
Guerschon Yabusele has spent most of this season with Boston's Gatorade League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. After the Celtics' practice on Monday, Stevens said Yabusele was on a flight back to Boston to be with the team. More than likely, the 6-foot-8 forward will be on the team's active roster tonight.


The Wizards come into the game missing a key player as well, with All-Star John Wall still on the mend after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in January.
Despite all the injuries, Boston (46-21) will likely finish with the No. 2 seed in the East, which normally brings about an expectation of at least getting to the Conference finals. 
While that certainly remains a goal, with so many late-season injuries should that remain the expectation for this group?
The Celtics have consistently said their focus this season has been getting better from one game to the next, and that improvement wasn't necessarily going to always show up in the win column. 
That approach will serve them well right now, because every indication is that this most recent rash of setbacks won't be as easy to move past as those experienced earlier this year. 
"A lot of teams are going through [injuries]," said Terry Rozier. "So, we have to collectively as a group do what we can to pick up for those guys. It's not going to be easy, but part of the NBA -- this is what it's all about -- opportunity."


Jabari Bird works hard . . . and plays well

File photo

Jabari Bird works hard . . . and plays well

During Las Vegas Summer League play, the Celtics' Jabari Bird has been a human highlight reel-in-waiting every time he's stepped on the floor.

But while people may see Bird's breakout performances, they haven't seen what led to them: The 6 a.m. workouts near San Francisco that he would drive an hour to attend earlier this summer, and the film sessions breaking down the 400 or so shots he would take -- and make -- per workout.

There is an under-the-radar, stealth-like grind about Bird that has helped him stand out as one of the top players for Boston’s Summer League team . . . and, just as important, better secure a place for himself in the NBA next season.


“Everybody here at Summer League has to be impressed by the way he’s playing,” Celtics assistant and Summer League coach Jay Larranaga told reporters recently.

Bird will look to continue his strong play tonight in the Celtics' Summer League playoff matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers at 8 p.m. He was given a rest and didn't play in yesterday's 74-72 win over Miami, so will take team-high averages of 16.8 point and 6.0 rebounds into tonight's game. He's also shooting 57.1 percent from the field and is second on the C's in steals (1.8 per game).

The numbers are strong, clearly. But Bird’s work ethic, more than the eye-popping moves on the floor, is what has allowed him to stand out in Las Vegas.

Player development trainer Packie Turner of Unlimited Potential Basketball has worked with Bird dating back to his junior season at Cal and has been pleased with how the 24-year-old has made the most of his opportunity this summer.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Turner who has worked with two-time league MVP Stephen Curry, his brother Seth Curry, and Sacramento’s Skal Labissiere, among others. “[Bird] can defend, he can shoot,  he can score. Three-and-D (defense) guys are everywhere now.”

And it is that versatility that promtped Boston to take Bird with the 56th overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, and later sign him to a two-way contract.

Bird had an injury-riddled first season shuffling back and forth between the Celtics and their Gatorade League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. But after the C' shad secured the second-best record in the East, with no shot at moving up to the top spot, Bird was among the players to see extensive playing time late in the season.

And to his credit, he didn’t disappoint.

He played so well that there was a swelling level of interest among Celtics fans who wanted to see Boston carve out a spot on the playoff roster for Bird. (However, players signed to two-way contracts are ineligible to be on their respective team’s playoff roster.)

Bird had a taste of being active on an NBA roster, and he clearly wanted more.

Turner could sense something was different with Bird shortly after his rookie season had ended and he returned to the Bay Area, setting up workouts with an earlier-than-usual start time of 6 a.m.

“He has always wanted to be in the gym,” Turner told NBC Sports Boston. “But you could tell, he could see how close he was and came in committed to doing everything he could to make it happen, now.”

Bird, a prep All-American before choosing the Cal Bears over a bevy of college suitors, was a high-flyer from the jump. But Turner wanted to see him expand that athleticism beyond playing above the rim.


“I thought back then he used [his athleticism] vertically, but didn’t use it laterally,” Turner said. “He’s gotten a lot better laterally using his athleticism. That’s an area we can get better with as far as how he attacks side-to-side . . . just big explosive movements and not getting upright in those moments. He knows how to do it around the rim, a lot of put-backs; he’s active around the glass. I want him to use that same athleticism on a step-back, or a move to clear space.”

We have seen more of that in Summer League, which has made Bird a more versatile, more attractive target for teams. The Celtics made him a qualifying offer earlier this summer, making him a restricted free agent.
Bird has shrugged off talk surrounding his basketball fate beyond this summer, aware that thinking too much about it can do no good.
“I’m not too concerned with what’s going on as far as my future and things like that,” Bird told NBC Sports Boston near the end of the regular season when he got his first opportunity to play decent minutes. “I’m trying to control what I can control, and that’s going out and play hard every game."

Bird added: “I’m just trying to show everyone in this organization that I’m a good ballplayer.”

Jaylen Brown, a teammate of Bird’s at Cal, was among the first to put folks on alert that Bird had NBA-caliber talent.

“I’m telling you, he’s a really, really good player,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston. “When he gets his chance, and he’ll get it, he’ll show everyone. You’ll see.”


Yabusele, Henry shine as Celtics beat Heat in Summer League second round

Yabusele, Henry shine as Celtics beat Heat in Summer League second round

The Boston Celtics survived a late onslaught from the Miami Heat to come away with a 74-72 win in the second round of the NBA Las Vegas Summer League, Saturday night at the Thomas and Mack Center on the campus of UNLV.

Pierria Henry, who ranks fourth on the Celtics in points per game this summer, continues to make a strong impression, leading all Boston scorers with 15. Meanwhile, former first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele had another great night on the boards, hitting a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Jarrod Uthoff was the other scorer in double-figures for the Celtics, with 11, while Semi Ojeleye finished with nine points on 3-of-10 shooting.

Derrick Walton Jr. led the way for Miami with 15 points, shooting 46 percent from the floor despite a 1-for-7 effort from three-point range.

The Celtics will face the Portland Trail Blazers in tomorrow’s quarterfinals.