The Celtics’ seemingly unattainable quest for stability took another slight hit on Wednesday as leading scorer Isaiah Thomas sat out against the Memphis Grizzlies because of a bruised lower back.
Coach Brad Stevens said Thomas’s injury, which he suffered in the win over the Heat on Monday, would likely cause him to miss this weekend’s games against the Magic and Pacers, too. The team is hopeful Thomas could return against the 76ers on Monday, if not sooner.
“He’s a huge part of us now, and us moving forward, and he makes everybody better who’s on the floor,” Stevens said. “But we’ve had to play without him prior to the All-Star break. Nobody’s going to do what he does by themselves, but we’ve got to figure it out collectively.”
The return of guard Avery Bradley made that task a bit more feasible. Bradley had missed the last three games after spraining his left elbow in the win over the Jazz last Wednesday, and scored a team-high 17 points in the 95-92 win over Memphis.
Bradley said he hyperextended the elbow during that game. Although he returned in the second half, the pain was worse the following day so he stayed in Boston during the recent three-game trip.
“I’m still in a little bit of pain but I can tolerate it,” Bradley said. “I’ve been through worse.”
Bradley, who is averaging 13.9 points and 2.9 rebounds a game, wore a protective sleeve over his elbow. He said he did not feel any extra urgency to return now that Thomas is out, but moving forward without the 5-foot-9-inch guard figures to be difficult.
Thomas has provided a jolt since being acquired from the Suns Feb. 19. He is averaging 21.4 points and 5.4 assists per game with Boston, and the attention he has drawn from defenders has freed teammates on the perimeter.
Thomas suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of Boston’s 100-90 victory on Monday night when he fell hard after being fouled by Dwyane Wade. Thomas finished the game, but afterward said it was perhaps the hardest fall of his career.
“Usually when I fall like that, I bounce right back up,” Thomas said Monday. “The pain that I had, it hurt, man. It hurt.”
Although Thomas injured his lower back and right elbow on the play, Stevens said he could play through the elbow injury if needed.
Pressed into service
Stevens said Thomas’s injury would open up playing time for guard Phil Pressey, who had played a total of just 29 minutes since Feb. 1.
“I feel like I can trust Phil,” Stevens said. “He’s always ready on the call. He gives you great energy, he defends well, and he’s a guy you know will bring it and be ready despite not having played very much over the last couple weeks.”
Pressey entered Wednesday’s game with 2:26 left in the first quarter, then drained a 33-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving the Celtics a 23-18 lead.
He finished with 5 points, 2 assists, and a steal in 18 minutes.
The Grizzlies came to TD Garden with a bit of a green hue. Their roster includes former Celtics Jeff Green, Tony Allen, and Courtney Lee.
Green was here most recently, as the forward was traded to the Grizzlies in January after he averaged 14.6 points over four seasons in Boston.
“It was great,” Green said of his time with the Celtics. “I matured. My growth as a person, as a player, all happened here. Playing under Doc [Rivers], he instilled so much in me as far as being aggressive, especially playing alongside [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo. I learned so much. I grew a lot.”
Lee was coming off the bench for the Celtics last season when he was traded to the Grizzlies, and he has established himself as a starter for one of the Western Conference’s top teams.
“It’s not bitter feelings toward Boston or anything like that,” Lee said. “It was just what it was, the situation at hand. You get a trade and a better situation for yourself, so you’re going to be happy about that. It’s like getting a transfer and a pay raise, right?”
Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger spoke glowingly of Allen, a defensive specialist who is now in his fifth season with the Grizzlies.
“He’ll guard one guy, shut the water off,” Joerger said. “Go play another guy, shut the water off. He’s been tremendous.”