Next Man Up: Celtics Playoff Edition, 2.0


BOSTON -- For the second year in a row, the Celtics will begin their postseason journey with at least one key player out with an injury. 

A year ago both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were out for the entire postseason due to injuries. 

This year, it’s Marcus Smart, whose recent MRI results revealed a torn oblique that’s expected to keep him out for at least a month.

But if there’s a silver lining to Smart’s injury, it’s that his absence will create greater opportunities for Boston’s other players to step up and make an impact, which we've seen them do so often when at less than full strength. 

And when you look at their roster, a good chunk of the pressure to perform at a high level will fall upon the shoulders of the team’s Big Three - Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward - who are collectively playing some of their best basketball right now. 

Irving has averaged 24.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.0 assists since the All-Star Break. 

In April, Horford has averaged 17.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists while shooting 59.2 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range. 

Following his return to the lineup after being in the concussion protocol beginning March 17, Hayward has strung together eight consecutive double-digit scoring games (and counting) - his longest such streak since becoming a Celtic. 

Irving, speaking prior to the Celtics announcing Smart would be out for four to six weeks with his oblique injury, said the pressure to step up should not be placed upon the shoulders of any select group of Celtics players. 

“I've always hated the whole title-driven idea of separating the most talented guys on the team,” Irving said before adding, “Just call them the ‘Big Three’ and they're all relied on and they're all depended on …  that recipe has never worked for us in terms of just being realistic or just how great we are as a team made up of collective individuals. We all really bring something special to the table out there, any moment in the game it could change. We all have that impact in our DNA.”

Still, there’s no getting around the fact that Irving, Horford and Hayward were all brought to Boston with the purpose of leading what the Celtics brass was hoping would be a three-headed monster that could power the franchise towards Banner 18.

And while Irving is spot-on when he asserts that it’ll take a strong collective effort for this team to achieve its goal of getting to the NBA Finals, that challenge increased significantly with Smart’s injury, which could potentially keep him out for the first and second rounds. 

“Whoever steps out there, has to play their best for us to be our best,” Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We have to play at our best or as close as we can, to our best to win in the playoffs.”

It will certainly fall upon the shoulders of many to help pick up the slack left behind by Smart’s injury. 

Ultimately, the Celtics will do what most teams do in these instances and that's lean on their best players. For this team, that's the talented triumvirate of Irving, Hayward and Horford.  

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