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As a veteran Police Lieutenant, I learned that there is no one more dangerous than someone with nothing to lose. The same applies to the injury-plagued Boston Celtics. They lost two of their top-3 players, one (Gordon Hayward) early in the season and one (Kyrie Irving) late. One vital back-up (Daniel Theis) is out for the season, and another (Marcus Smart) may be back sometime during the playoffs.

The crew that remains healthy really has nothing to lose heading into the post-season. Rival Eastern Conference teams are just drooling to battle what they perceive as a vastly-weakened team. Predators prey on the weak - the sick - the injured - and the young. That thinking can backfire.

We now know that Kyrie Irving will not be playing at all in the post-season. The only one of the injured foursome that has a good chance of returning is Smart. The good news is that the Celtics have proven that they can win without Kyrie in the lineup. They have a 12-6 record without him. This is how The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn views the Celtics' chances:

The social media consensus after Kyrie Irving was ruled out for the playoffs because of a second knee procedure was the Washington Wizards, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks would be fighting each other to grab that seventh seed and a first-round matchup with the Celtics.

Not so fast.

If you ask coaches Scott Brooks, Erik Spoelstra and Joe Prunty whether they would like to face a Brad Stevens-led team with three or four days to prepare for a seven-game series, they probably wouldn’t jump at the scenario.

The Celtics will be formidable, even without Irving, although their chances for a run at the NBA Finals, realistic with Irving, are probably dashed. That doesn’t mean they can’t make a playoff run.

Terry Rozier is the key guy here. He needs to direct the team, score and defend. The Jay-Team, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, will be counted on to play bigger roles. This is a terrific opportunity for them to shine. Al Horford has struggled at times this season. This is his chance to show why he earns a max contract. His control is needed, but he also will be called upon to help fill the offensive void created by Kyrie's absence.

Marcus Morris has become critical because of his offense. Shane Larkin has done extremely well filling in and picking up tempo. Greg Monroe provides much-needed offense and rebounding, despite occasional defensive lapses. Aron Baynes is solid defensively and hits the glass, but I doubt his recent 3-point shooting will be exhibited in the playoffs.

One real plus of being a Celtics fan is you don't treat it like a business. My personal feeling is that I don't live or die with Championships. Professional basketball is entertainment for me, and I always want my team to be competitive, get into the playoffs on a regular basis and come away with the occasional Championship when good luck is on our side. It certainly wasn't on our side this season.

So beware of the person or team with nothing to lose. They can be dangerous. The smart rival coaches. as Washburn said, when broached with the chance of facing Boston "wouldn't jump at the scenario". And no opponent wants to face Marcus Smart. If the Celtics start making serious noise in the first round, Marcus will be pleading "Send me in Coach!" You just know it. He tore a ligament in his hand and thought it was a sprain. A re-injury for Gordon Hayward or Kyrie could be catastrophic. Maybe not so much for Smart, although I don't know how accurate his shot would be with a soft cast or brace on the hand (there's a joke there somewhere). Been quite a season so far.

Follow Tom at @TomLaneHC

Photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images



Tom Lane 4/06/2018 11:20:00 AM Edit
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