BOSTON – Kyrie Irving was smiling ear to ear as Russell Westbrook’s long three-pointer missed the mark at the final buzzer. The Boston Celtics came from behind to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder Tuesday night, 100-99.
But Irving was smiling from the C’s bench, as he missed his fourth straight game with left knee soreness, something that has been bothering him at various points throughout the season.
And he’s set to miss more games, too, as he’ll get a second opinion on that knee and not travel with the team at least to begin their four-game road trip – though the results of that second opinion and Irving’s level of discomfort will determine if he joins them at some point.
ESPN reported that there is no structural damage to the knee. The hope is that rest down the final stretch of the regular season will do the trick and Irving will be ready to lead the team to a deep playoff run. At 48-23, they are currently the No. 2 seed in the East with a fairly large cushion on the No. 3-seeded Cavs, who have problems of their own.
Of course, a little rest and relaxation for Irving is the best-case scenario.
But you would be wearing a seriously green-tinted set of glasses if you didn’t at least feel some level of concern regarding this knee issue that was relatively unknown to the masses when the C’s traded for the 25-year-old Irving over the offseason.
Couple that with the Gordon Hayward injury, and what was once considered Danny Ainge’s sure-fire contender for years to come is suddenly a team that may have more health concerns than anything else.
But because of these injuries and more, Brad Stevens has had to turn to his young players. They’ve answered the call.
Tuesday’s win against the Thunder is just the latest example, as both Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier kept the C’s in things as they went toe to toe with superstars Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony.
Tatum had his first career 20-point, 10-rebound game – but it was an assist on a broken inbounds play to Marcus Morris for the game-winner that ended up being the difference. He finished a game-high plus-23, which should tell you all you need to know about his impact in a one-point victory.
Tatum looked like the flashiest player out there – and that includes Thunder players.
Rozier also continued to carry the load in the absence of Irving and Marcus Smart. Rozier has scored in double digits in each of the 20 games since his first career start (a triple-double) on Jan. 31, averaging 15.6 points per game over the span.
A banged up Irving is going to make a deep postseason run difficult for Boston. They’ll already be without Hayward, and may very well be without Smart, who just had surgery on his right thumb.
Based on what we’ve seen, Al Horford isn’t the type of player to put the team on his back, either.
But if no trip to the NBA finals – or heck, the Eastern Conference Finals – comes from this season, it’s at least become clear that the C’s have some serious young talent in Tatum, Rozier, and Jaylen Brown. Let’s just hope some superstar players can join them at some point.