Gordon Hayward went down – and without one of their superstars, the Celtics kept winning. Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart went down – and without a big part of their depth, the Celtics kept winning.
And then Kyrie Irving went down, and just when you (very justifiably so) thought losing Hayward and Irving for the year would do them in for good – the Celtics kept winning.
Smart’s back, but on Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Philadelphia 76ers you could add Jaylen Brown to the list of injuries . . . yup, the Celtics kept winning.
Brown, who’s dealing with a hamstring injury, could very well be back for Thursday’s Game 2, and that would be huge for the Celtics as Brown has used his second year in the NBA as a jumping off point – quite literally and figuratively – to becoming a star in this league.
But he is by no means the only one on this roster who has found success by being prepared for the opportunity presented due to injuries and roster make-up.
Brown watched as fellow Danny Ainge draft picks Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum shined on the biggest stage, Rozier with 29 points and Tatum with 28.
While Tatum has been performing at a Rookie-of-the-Year type level for most of the season, the third-year guard Rozier has been the C’s catalyst since Irving went down, going from cult hero to national treasure thanks in part to his trolling of Eric “Drew” Bledsoe, but mostly due to his knack for hitting the big shot.
And as for Al Horford, well, don’t expect anyone to question his contract anytime soon. The C’s anchor finished with 26 points in Game 1, which led to a wild stat sent out by the team after the game: The 83 combined points between Rozier, Tatum, and Horford are more than Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen ever scored together in a single game, regular season or playoffs.
Horford, Tatum, and Rozier aren’t the new Big 3. Please, don’t run with that. But perhaps there are a few comparisons from that 2008 championship team.
Here’s one that shouldn’t blow your mind: Al Horford is this team’s Kevin Garnett.
It’s actually pretty obvious at this point, too. Horford, who plays the same positions Garnett did, is the defensive anchor and a facilitator on offense. He’s a leader, makes smart decisions, and hits big shots when he decides to take them. Sound familiar?
You’ll notice a few more flexes out of Horford in this year’s playoffs than you’ve seen in the past, too. The emotion is there, though nobody is going to compare with Garnett’s intensity.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two right now? Horford’s shooting.
“I feel like he’s really, just really locked in,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Horford after his 10-for-12 night. “He’s done a good job of knowing when to roll and post and play kind of an interior spot, and then knowing when to pop and space those type of things. And he’s – I said this at the beginning of the year – he’s gone from a very good mid-range shooter to a very good three-point shooter. Now he’s just an excellent shooter.”
Those who haven’t watched will scoff at the comparison, much like they’ve scoffed at the C’s chances of doing anything special this year.
But maybe Game 1’s win over the favorited Sixers, a team that came in on six days rest and with all the hype surrounding phenoms Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons (“Not a rookie!”), should be the one that finally – finally! – gets you to understand that this team won’t go as far as you believe they’ll go, but as far as they believe they can go.