The Boston Celtics suffered a colossal blow heading into their January 14 game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Marcus Smart, who missed Boston’s January 12 win against the Indiana Pacers due to an injury sustained earlier in the week, has now been ruled out of his team’s game against their fierce rivals.
According to the Celtics injury report, Smart is out due to entering the league’s health and safety protocols, which means we’re not likely to see him return to the court in the coming days. Smart is the latest core member of Boston’s rotation to enter into protocols. The team has dealt with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, and a plethora of rotation players, all being away from the team at one point or another this season.
Luckily, Boston has come through the worst of their roster issues, and other than Smart’s absence, head into the game against the Sixers with a full roster.
Boston Will Miss Smart’s Impact Against Sixers
The Celtics have played the Sixers twice this season, with their January 14 contest being the third game between the two rivals. Of those two games, each team has taken a victory. Yet, the Celtics have shown a clear game plan for attempting to slow down powerful big man Joel Embiid.
Ime Udoka has preferred to use Smart as a help defender on Embiid, making life difficult once he enters the paint. Of course, the Sixers All-Star center has a clear height advantage over Smart, which is why Udoka ensures Boston’s defensive specialist is always part of a double team or blitz, rather than guarding Embiid straight up.
Outside of Smart’s defensive ability, the Celtics will also be missing their starting point guard, placing further pressure on Tatum and Brown as playmakers. While both All-Star wings have been developing that area of their game over the last 18 months, having to shoulder the load against a conference rival could be a big ask for them.
However, the Celtics could opt to run their offense through their big men, with Robert Williams and Horford being two of the better passing centers in the NBA. Or perhaps Udoka gives Schroder some additional ball-handling duties under the premise he kicks the rock after drawing a defender? Whatever Udoka decides to do, it’s clear that Smart will be a significant loss for the Celtics against the Sixers.
Smart’s Absence Highlights Roster Flaw
With Smart on the injury list, the Celtics only have Dennis Schroder and Payton Pritchard as recognized point guards, both of whom are known for their scoring prowess rather than their ability to marshall an offense.
Playmaking has been something Celtics fans have been calling for all season, and despite popular belief, Smart has been one of the team’s better players in that regard. Of course, pass-first point guards are in short supply in the modern NBA era, and those still floating around the league are all under contract. So, even if Boston did decide they needed a new playmaker, it’s unlikely they would come at the guard position.
However, adding another guard, who isn’t as ball-dominant as Schroder, or as raw as Pritchard, wouldn’t be a wrong decision for Brad Stevens. Udoka wants his team to play a fast-paced, egalitarian brand of offense that sees players passing and cutting relentlessly. While Schroder and Pritchard are talented, neither project fits the coach’s long-term vision.
It will be interesting to see how the Celtics alter their strategy during their starting guard’s absence and which players are tasked with initiating the offense throughout the game. And with the trade deadline fast approaching, it will be fun to see how Stevens strengthens the current roster if he chooses to make a move, that is.