Celtics’ Marcus Smart optimistic, but return isn’t close
INDIANAPOLIS — After the Celtics wrapped up their morning shootaround on Friday, assistant coach Jay Larranaga summoned guard Marcus Smart to an empty basket at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Smart, who remains sidelined with an oblique tear he suffered in an April 7 loss to the Magic, gently lofted about 50 shots from various spots within 8 feet of the hoop. He did not jump, or even bend his knees much, but it was a small sign of progression for a player who earlier in the week needed help just to stand up.
“I’m still very ecstatic with the progress that I made,” Smart said later, sitting at a courtside seat. “I’m obviously nowhere near coming back, but to be able to get back on the court, get some shots up and be able to do a [few] more things actively is great progress for me.”
Smart added that his road to recovery remains long. He said he felt some pain even lofting those short shots, both from the injury and the resulting scar tissue, and that he will not be firing up 3-pointers anytime soon. He said he is still about two weeks away from being able to jog, which is the same timeline he offered three days ago.
“We’re just trying to get me back to doing every-day life stuff,” Smart said. “That was our main goal. Like, being able to breathe normally, being able to walk normally without excruciating pain. We’re ahead of schedule, and the progress we’re making, we’re pleased with it.”
Smart has played through pain before, and he acknowledged that it is frustrating not to be able to do that now, especially since the playoffs are here.
“Sometimes you forget and your mind actually forgets that you’re hurting, and you try to do things,” Smart said. “You have to remind yourself to slow it down, take it easy, and that’s the hard part, because you want to go out there and go, go, go, but you can’t.”
In Game 1 of this opening-round series against the Pacers, Smart was in too much pain to even sit on the bench. But he was there for Game 2, and he was pleased that he was able to take the flight to Indianapolis to support his teammates for Friday’s Game 3, too.
“That was one thing Danny [Ainge] emphasized with me, being able to coach from the bench and really help these guys out,” Smart said, “because for some of these guys it’s their first time taking on bigger roles.”
Celtics forward Gordon Hayward grew up in Brownsburg, which sits about 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. He has played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse many times during his NBA career, but his best memory here remains leading his high school to the Class 4A state championship by hitting a game-winning buzzer beater.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Hayward said Friday. “I think high school basketball in Indiana is just about everything. It was a memory that will last forever and that was a lot of fun. It was actually the day before my birthday, too, so we got back to the gym and the whole town like sang Happy Birthday. It was quite an extravaganza. It was cool.”
Indiana state of mind
Celtics legend Larry Bird, who has worked for the Pacers for many years as a coach, general manager, and now an advisor, attended the first two games of this series at TD Garden and received a standing ovation each time he was shown on the arena’s video board.
Despite the fact that Bird and Brad Stevens both have deep connections to Indianapolis and Boston, they have yet to have a real conversation beyond briefly saying hello at a few functions when Stevens coached at Butler. But Stevens’s admiration runs deep.
“In the ’80s for us, if you weren’t watching the Pacers play, you were watching the Celtics in the early part of the afternoon and the Lakers in the evening,” Stevens said. “Larry Bird, obviously, his impact on the game, his impact on all the kids in Indiana cannot be overstated.”