BOSTON — One of the lingering questions in the aftermath of the oblique injury that will sideline Marcus Smart at the start of the 2019 NBA playoffs is why did the Celtics put Smart back on the court after the initial injury?
Smart was in obvious pain after hip-checking Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic while trying to intercept a pass on the defensive end in the third quarter of Sunday’s game. Smart insisted to the team’s training staff that he could return during a timeout that followed but quickly motioned to the bench to be subbed out before collapsing to the floor while clutching his side.
The Celtics announced Wednesday that Smart will miss 4-6 weeks with what the team termed a partial avulsion of his left oblique abdominal muscle off of his iliac crest.
It’s fair to wonder why players like Smart and Jayson Tatum, who also departed early with a shin injury, were playing in what amounted to a meaningless game with homecourt already secured for the Celtics when the Pacers lost earlier in the day.
“[Smart] told me he didn’t really notice it until he bent his knees and got in a stance. So that’s when it didn’t feel the same,” Stevens said before Thursday’s practice. "I have to listen to the training staff, I have to listen to our players, and Marcus was the one who gave the thumbs up on that. I guess I could always go back and look and say, ‘Would I have played him again in that game period?’ But as you look around the league, there’s a lot of guys that played in the last two games or three games, and freak things can happen.”
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge echoed the coach’s sentiment about having to trust what the player is telling the medical staff.
"You always have to listen to the player. You sprain your ankle, and you say, 'I can still play. I can still play.' And sometimes you can, and sometimes you go out there and you go, 'No, I'm hurting the team, or I'm gonna re-injure it,’” said Ainge. "Thank goodness he ran up the court one time and ran back and he knew he wasn't able to play. I don't put any blame on that.
"You always listen to the players. You always know Marcus is going to play through pain, and he couldn't. Just like I certainly don't question coach Stevens for playing him either. You have to play guys, and it was a good game, good competition, you can't go for a long period of time without getting reps and getting play, and the plan was to play those guys against Orlando and leading up to that game we didn't know we had homecourt advantage locked up until right before tipoff.”
Ainge said freak injuries can occur at any point.
"I don't think Brad was planning on playing Marcus in the fourth quarter but it happened in the third. You can't put them in bubble wrap,” said Ainge. "I remember in 1987 I got hurt in practice leading up to the playoffs and it bothered me the entire playoffs and I was never the same player. But you've got to practice. You've got to have contact and sometimes there's risk of injury.”
The Celtics clearly felt for Smart, who had played so well this season and is forced to endure another season in which injuries could limit his playoff availability. Smart missed the first four games of Boston’s first-round series against the Bucks last year.
"I feel really bad for Marcus,” said Ainge. "I know how well he's playing right now. I know how hard he's worked to get ready for this moment. But injuries are just part of it. Part of what we all have to deal with and it's an opportunity for someone else. Hopefully we can keep playing so that Marcus gets a crack at the playoffs this year.”
Stevens said that a four-week rehab sounded “aggressive” and tempered the notion of a quick return for Smart. Stevens said others will have to step up without Smart available.
"I mean it obviously stinks for him. He’s a big part of our team, and we’ll have to pick up for what he does, collectively,” said Stevens. "Obviously, he’s unique in the way that he plays.”
Stevens said that, as much as he feels for Smart, his focus had to be on figuring out how to maximize the players that are available.
"You just always play with who is available and you really don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about from a frustrating standpoint,” said Stevens. "I feel for Marcus. We’ll have other guys that’ll have to step up, and it’ll be a great opportunity for them to do so.”
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