Nine days have passed since Celtics guard Marcus Smart suffered an oblique tear that will keep him out through at least the opening-round playoff series against the Pacers. Smart is known as one of the tougher players in the NBA and he has a history of returning from injuries earlier than expected, but on Tuesday he made it clear that there is still a long road ahead.
He walked gingerly across the practice court toward a cluster of reporters, though even that was a small sign of progress, he said. Over the previous four or five days, he had needed assistance just to stand up from a chair or get out of bed. He is not yet focused on playing without pain; right now he just wants it not to hurt when he breathes.
“Today was my first day being able to walk without grimacing in any pain,” Smart said. “It still hurts real bad to laugh, cough, or sneeze. But the everyday stuff is getting better — walking, getting out of bed, and things like that.
“So we’re making great progress, but unfortunately with this injury there’s nothing really anybody can do.”
Smart suffered the injury when he collided with Magic center Nikola Vucevic during the Celtics’ April 7 loss to Orlando. He fell to the floor and initially just felt the wind had been knocked out of him.
“I took an extra step and thought I was fine,” Smart said, “and then all of a sudden I just felt like somebody stabbed me with a knife and I went down.”
He eventually got up, made his way to the bench, and decided to stay in the game anyway. But not for long.
“When I tried to get into a defensive stance, I felt something pull, and that’s when I kind of knew,” Smart said. “I started waving for coaches to come get me, and the more steps I took, I could feel something stabbing me until I couldn’t move anymore, and that’s when I dropped to the ground. It was real painful and I don’t wish it upon nobody.”
Smart was helped to the locker room by members of Boston’s medical staff and ultimately ruled out for 4-6 weeks.
This kind of oblique tear is unusual, especially in basketball, so there is not much precedent for Smart to consider.
The primary treatment at this point is rest, and that is difficult for a player who wants to feel he is working toward a return rather than waiting for it. Smart has been able to do some limited rehabilitation in a swimming pool as well as some light exercises to loosen his gluteus muscles.
“That’s probably the frustrating part,” Smart said. “You have to just sit there helplessly knowing there’s nothing you can do, and that no one can do for you. You have to sit there and go through it.
“Being out here watching these guys and not being on the floor makes it even more tough for me. So I’ve kind of been stressing a little bit not being on the court.”
Smart said he is hopeful that he will be able to begin jogging again in about two weeks, and then start shooting a basketball soon after that.
The next round of playoffs could start as early as April 27, so given the current timeline, it remains quite likely that Smart would miss at least the opening games of a potential series against the top-seeded Bucks.
Smart was too sore to sit on the bench during Boston’s Game 1 win over the Pacers on Sunday, but he plans to be there for Wednesday’s Game 2. He missed the start of last season’s opening-round series against the Bucks with a thumb injury, so he has experience trying to add value despite not being able to be in the one position where he is most valuable.
But that does not mean he likes it very much.
Coach Brad Stevens, for one, welcomes the input of a bright, defensive-focused player-turned-coach.
“Anything he can do to lessen my load, I’m good,” Stevens said. “Let’s go.
“He’s got a good mind on him. He’s always been a guy who can think the game. He’s an inspiring guy to be around. He’s got good passion. He’s a natural born kind of leader, and talker, and he’s got great instinct for the game, so he’s got good ideas, he’s got good thoughts.
“I know our guys appreciate that and value that in him, so it’s good to have him back in the gym and be around.”