The Boston Celtics pulled off a thrilling overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of their opening-round series on Sunday.
Playing without Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis and Gordon Hayward, veteran All-Star Al Horford and the team’s young core got the job done against Giannis Antetokounmpo and company at the TD Garden.
Despite the fact that the Celtics are technically the two-seed in the East, the victory felt like an upset. Ever since it was announced that Irving would miss the remainder of the year due to knee surgery, Boston was essentially written off by the general public.
But, they played with a grit and tenacity that allowed them to persevere and end up with a victory.
And luckily, one of the four players listed above might be back on the court soon. Although he’s not an All-Star, he could certainly make a gigantic difference, especially on the defensive end.
As reported by Chris Forsberg of ESPN, Smart, who has been nursing a torn ligament in his thumb, could return to the court by the end of the first series if it goes the distance.
"We're on track for [a return in the] next three weeks, possibly Game 7 of the first round, [but] definitely second round. So we're on the right path,” Smart indicated after doing some drills before Game 1.
It appears as though he will be wearing a splint on his injured thumb after he returns.
"Today was the first day with the new splint on to actually get out here and do something. So the thumb felt well," said Smart, who appears to be very optimistic. "I have a new splint on, a smaller splint to protect the thumb from going back to the side or possible reinjury. So I'll be playing like that when I come back for a while, for probably the next couple of months. But this was my first time, and it felt good out there.”
"I've got hopes," he added. "We're very optimistic. But the last thing we want to do is get out there and rush anything and we're back to square one. So right now the timetable is still the same. Hopefully, over the next couple of weeks, things change and we can move it up earlier.”
Despite the optimism and high hopes, Smart understands that he has to be careful and can’t rush back too soon.
"Like I said, we're optimistic, but we're not going to rush anything," he noted. "We're going to take it slow. So I think I have another doctor's appointment, a checkup, in the next two weeks. We'll see what [the doctor] says. If she clears us to be able to start a little bit earlier, then we might. But as of right now, Game 7 [or the] second round is the [goal]."
In Game 1, Terry Rozier (40 minutes) and Jaylen Brown (46) played the lion’s share of minutes in the backcourt while Shane Larkin (16) spelled them. Jayson Tatum (44) also handled the ball from time-to-time, as did Horford (44). Smart would most likely take Larkin’s spot in the rotation while also taking some of the burden off of Rozier and Brown, especially on defense, where he thrives.
So, although the Celtics hope that they can move on to the second round and don’t need to play in a Game 7, it’s a positive sign to hear that Smart is nearing a return.
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