The Celtics’ playoff run last season was defined by their ability to overcome a seemingly endless stream of injuries. There was a fleeting moment this year when it actually looked like Boston would enter the postseason completely healthy.
But on Wednesday Marcus Smart was ruled out indefinitely with an oblique tear that he suffered in last Sunday’s game against the Magic. So when the Celtics begin their first-round playoff series against the Pacers on Sunday at TD Garden, they will once again be relying on their depth.
Coach Brad Stevens has yet to name a starting lineup replacement for Smart, who is expected to miss this entire series. But Jaylen Brown remains the most likely option.
Brown, who has found a rhythm coming off the bench in recent months, said Saturday that he is unconcerned about the possible switch.
“I mean, in the playoffs it’s different,” Brown said. “Matchups, everything comes into consideration, so at the end of the day it just becomes basketball. We just want to be on the floor. In the playoffs it doesn’t matter if you’re starting, coming off the bench, or sweeping the floor. You just want to be out there.”
Brown, who missed three games this month because of back spasms, said he will be ready for a heavy workload in the playoffs regardless.
“My back has been getting better every day,” Brown said. “There’s a little bit of tightness, but the more and more I get treatment, the more and more the days pass, I don’t even feel it, so I’ll be fine.”
In recent weeks Stevens has consistently raised concerns about the Pacers’ physical frontcourt players such as Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Domantas Sabonis.
“Their frontline is terrific,” Stevens said. “Strong, physical, tough. They all can put the ball on the floor and can shoot and will shoot threes and make threes. Their wings all post and have big strong wings up and down the board, so when they get a matchup they like, they go right to it. I really have a lot of respect for Nate [McMillan] and their staff. They look out there, they see what they want to attack, and they go after it.”
Boston figures to battle size with size, often deploying pairings that include Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Daniel Theis.
“I just think you have to be big against those guys for spurts of the game at least,” Stevens said. “Theis has been really good because he’s been on-call. He’s like the guy that can sit the first 2½ quarters, come in in the third and impact the game, and play right away and impact the game. There might be a moment that Baynes gets in foul trouble and we have to play Horford and Theis more minutes together, and that’s something I feel really comfortable with. They complement each other. Al’s ability to play inside and out gives us a great deal of flexibility to play other bigs with him.”
Despite the Pacers’ heft down low, they ranked just 18th in the NBA in rebounding percentage and 20th in blocks per game this season.
Star players generally see a bump in playing time once the playoffs begin. Last season, for example, Horford played 31.6 minutes per game during the regular season and 35.7 during the postseason.
But Stevens said it is important to balance the desire to play top players longer with the need to keep them fresh when they are on the floor.
“You have to make sure you maximize your depth and maximize your bench and give those guys appropriate breaks,” Stevens said. “The TV timeouts are a little longer and generally, obviously, people have been building up to play more minutes as the season has gone on. But at the same time, depth and being good when your depth is in the game is really important.”