Celtics' frontline decimated by injury, handing them greatest challenge of Brad Stevens Era

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BOSTON -- We've often seen the Boston Celtics play their way through injuries and illnesses.

But things are different this time around. 

Usually, they've had a hodgepodge of ailments to various players at different positions. But the C's have now received a more precise, more painful blow: Their frontline has taken most of the recent hits, cutting into their already thin pool of big men.

This was never a position of tremendous depth for the Celtics, so the setbacks have cut even deeper than previous injuries. 

Being without so many key big men has exposed the Celts' lack of physicality and rebounding strength, two areas exploited in Boston’s last two games -- both losses -- by Detroit and Phoenix, respectively.

Al Horford (patellofemoral pain syndrome, left knee) is out indefinitely, although indications are he’ll be back soon.

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Guerschon Yabusele has a right ankle sprain suffered against New Orleans on Dec. 10 and he’s not due to return in the near future.

Now you can add Aron Baynes to the walking wounded. He suffered a fracture in the fourth metacarpal of his left hand Wednesday night that will sideline him for an extensive, but yet-to-be-determined period of time. 

That leaves the Green team extremely thin and green when it comes to bigs. 

And with a roster that stands at the NBA-maximum 15 players with guaranteed contracts, it’s not like the Celtics can go out and sign a free agent big man to help. 

They still have a two-way contract available after waiving Walter Lemon Jr. earlier this month. However, it’s unlikely they can sign someone who can come in and get up to speed quickly enough to be a contributor. 

So the more likely course of action is to batten down the hatches and ride out this storm of injuries, hoping they’ll have a healthy contingent of players in time for the postseason. In the meantime, the big-man rotation consists of Daniel Theis and rookie Robert Williams III, along with a host of other wings who may find themselves called upon to play one of the big forward positions.

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It is not an ideal situation, obviously. 

But if there is a silver lining to all this, it’s that Brad Stevens continues to get opportunities to look at different combinations that, were it not for all the injuries, he might not get to see on a more consistent basis. 

Still, the lack of healthy bodies in the frontcourt is indeed Boston’s number one problem right now, a problem that doesn't have a clear-cut solution on the horizon. 

Because even if Horford returns this weekend or early next week, the Celtics will still be shorthanded withoiut Baynes and Yabusele. While neither gobbles up a ton of minutes, the absence of players cuts into Boston’s margin for error because of its impact on the team’s overall depth. 

However, these Celtics still have a relatively high level of confidence despite the losses and injuries. That speaks to how they view themselves as a championship contender, regardless of who's in the lineup or not. 

But that title-contention belief only adds to what distinguishes this most recent set of setbacks from previous injuries.

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This team was built to contend for a title and, with that, opened the season with a tremendous amount of unprecedented expectations in the Brad Stevens era. 

And so these injuries cut deeper than previous ones because of their potential impact on what this team is locked on achieving -- winning a title -- in a season in which the C's have a roster that can legitimately make that goal achievable.

Yes, the Celtics have shown a resiliency in the face of injuries that has to be respected and admired, for sure. 

But with the expectations, and the fact that the injuries have hit them so hard at one particular position, overcoming these injuries will test them unlike anything we’ve seen in previous Stevens-coached teams. 

And that only adds to what has been a unique, very different challenge for this battle-tested bunch on the injury front. 

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