The Story: Celtics guard Kyrie Irving is expected to be out for four to five months after he undergoes a procedure this weekend to remove the two remaining screws from his patella, the team announced Thursday. He underwent a “minimally invasive” procedure on March 24 to remove a tension wire from his knee and seemed probable for a playoff return, but now will miss the entire NBA postseason.
The Importance: The initial recovery timeline (three to six weeks) made it unlikely that Irving would return for the first round, but suggested he could be back for the remainder of the playoffs, should the Celtics advance. As of Thursday, 2-seed Boston would be pitted against Washington, a team that has its own superstar point guard, John Wall, back on the court. The opening series—no matter who it’s against—will be difficult for Boston to conquer without Irving: The Celtics have gone 8-4 without him in March and April, with Terry Rozier performing beyond 6-foot-2 expectations. (Boston loves a short point guard, huh?) Though Rozier is, like Irving, an aggressive burst of energy at the top of the key, he is not the elite talent that can carry the Celts through the East.
Brad Stevens has managed to navigate injuries to Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, and Daniel Theis so far by making the most of trivial and/or unknown bench players, but Boston cannot make a deep run without Irving. Marcus Smart isn’t guaranteed to return after having thumb surgery last month, leaving Rozier (who is dealing with ankle issues) and Shane Larkin to run the Celtics offense in the postseason. (Both Rozier and Larkin were out for Wednesday’s game against the Bucks: Which team does it say more about that Milwaukee won by only four, 106-102?)
The Takeaway: The March surgery did bring good news for the Celtics: Irving’s knee, which was originally fractured in the 2015 Finals, is completely healed; Irving just needs the screws removed. His being sidelined is a tough break for the immediate future, but Boston—one of the youngest teams in basketball—has never been in a hurry to win it all, especially since Hayward went down in the first game of the season. Stevens still adapted and led the team to a 53-25 record, managing to make Boston a threatening postseason squad. But the Celtics are about the future. Come Gordon’s return—he’s JOGGING, by the way—next season, the roster will be even stronger behind Irving.