The hits just keep on coming for the Boston Celtics. They were at full strength for a hot minute, and then came Al Horford’s sprained elbow during a Friday night win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Boston still holds the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. And naturally, it’s tempting to think about where the team would be if it wasn’t subject to so many absences, as head coach Brad Stevens made clear before Sunday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, per ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg:
“It’s our whole year,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before Sunday’s game. “We have everybody healthy for a few quarters and then we don’t anymore. That’s part of it. We’ve played without guys all year. We’ll have to do that again [Sunday]. It’ll be a real challenge. But it’s a great opportunity for other guys to step up.”
Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Horford have all missed time this season. Ditto for Kelly Olynyk. According to NBA Man Games Lost, in fact, only four teams have lost more value to injuries than the Celtics:
NBA top 5, impact on teams by players lost to injury (Lost-vorp metric)
— Man Games Lost NBA (@ManGamesLostNBA) March 5, 2017
This is a big freaking deal. It’s frustrating, on the one hand, because it means the Celtics may never reach their ceiling with this exact core. But, on the other hand, if they get right before the playoffs, we may see the best version of this quasi-contender when it matters most—a squad the Cleveland Cavaliers may even need to fear.