So that's 4/5 of the expected starters who've been injured in only a quarter of the season. Tread carefully, AB.— Ryan Bernardoni (@dangercart) December 7, 2016
The 2016-17 NBA regular season is just over a quarter finished, and the Boston Celtics have already seen four of five starters - and their sixth man - miss significant time. It may still be early, but we're starting to get an idea about what this roster's character really is.
This team is fragile.
Isaiah Thomas becomes 6th Celtics player to miss time due to injury this season. Boston utilizes its 6th different starting lineup tonight.— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) December 7, 2016
Now, before you get out your torches and pitchforks, let me explain myself. I am not talking about run-of-the-mill fragility here. I am no Mike Felger, questioning the dedication of the team's commitment to the game when they take a night off for a major life event, or some heel suggesting that same player has maybe spent too much time resting for a brain, shoulder, ankle, or groin injury. I am not calling anyone's manhood, strength, will, or dedication into question.
Quite the opposite.
In fact, this team - if anything - pushes too hard, and needs to be reminded to take it easy sometimes, eager to build on last year's success on and off the court, reluctantly acquiescing to their team physician's advice to sit another game, to stay home and rest, to listen to the doctors and do what is necessary to heal.
Horford wasn't supposed to watch TV, but he wore sunglasses and watched Celtics games in a dark room at his home: https://t.co/r2WLxjN6T7— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) December 7, 2016
And their relentless style of play on both ends of the court has elevated several core members from also-rans and backups to All-Stars, All-NBA, and elite role players, transforming players like Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jay Crowder, and Marcus Smart into key contributors on one of the league's fringe title contenders just three years into a rebuild most expected to last five or more. This style of play comes with a cost, and the price tag is bodily sacrifice.
It means they are trading the integrity of their mortal coil for success and your entertainment. Respect that, even if you don't like when it (inevitably) takes them off the floor for a bit. And as I noted, four of five starters - save only Bradley - have missed multiple games to injuries, and five of six out of their top six rotation. Yet, they are not far off pace to reach the fifty-odd games many even-keeled and well-informed analysts expected them to reach at the start of the year. How could that be? Two reasons.
This team is deep.
It was assembled with an eye for players who not only were skilled, dedicated, and tenacious, but also flexible, professional, and adaptable. The second unit looks much like the first, if younger, less experienced, and talented - capable of duplicating much of the stratagems of Brad Stevens near-seamlessly, or sliding up or down into staggered line-ups or moving into the starting lineup for a game (or several) while someone recovers. Even Jaylen Brown has had a chance to shine from time to time, and while we may be frustrated by him acting very much like the fresh, inexperienced rookie he is, he has managed to play at an elite level defensively almost his entire time on the court, and offensively often enough to leave our jaw on the floor every three or four games, too.Our Role Model of the Day goes to #Boston @celtics forward @Al_Horford. Read what Horford told @BostonGlobe about his #concussion recovery: pic.twitter.com/eA1MXi4h5w— Concussion L.F. (@ConcussionLF) December 7, 2016
Mudiay's points in the FIRST QUARTER: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥!— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 7, 2016
(That's 24, a season-high.)#Nuggets 42 - Celtics 23.
This team will see more players miss games this season to injury. It happens to every team to some extent, and more so to those who rely on intensity and effort to excel the way Boston has to date. Granted, there's a handful of games bad decisions or mailed-in quarters can be blamed this year, but there are no losses to the Brooklyn Nets or Philadelphia 76ers, and even the few games they clearly should have won but didn't (for example, versus the New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets, or Washington Wizards) were lost as much from the outstanding play of opponents as much as they can be blamed on Celtic absences. Somehow, down five of those six key players for much of this first quarter of the season, Boston is only one seed out of where they aspired to be by the end of the year, with about 75% of the season left to get back there.
This team is resilient.
Or at least they have been so far, and there isn't a shred of evidence to the contrary. However, resilience, depth, and fragility do not a championship win - nor a roster build - by themselves. What the team does going forward, and what the front office does to help them for the rest of the season will be the ultimate statement to the quest to raise Banner 18. Buckle up and enjoy the ride, because it's about to get a little rough schedule-wise; by January, we'll see how resilient this squad really is.
For more stories about injuries on Celticslife, click here. For more by Justin, click here.
Photo via Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn Justin Quinn 12/09/2016 12:13:00 PM Tweet Edit