The Boston Celtics will be without All-Star big man Kevin Garnett for up to two weeks after an MRI revealed inflammation in his ankle. The injury, which flared up in the team’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks on March 22, will keep Garnett out of the line-up for a number of key games, including matchups with the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks in coming days.
The timing could not be worse for the Celtics, who are in the midst of a five-game losing streak and are now just two games ahead of the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference. With just 12 games left in what has already been a nightmare season for injuries in Boston, the Celtics will need to rise in Garnett’s absence to avoid slipping to the dreaded eighth seed and a first-round matchup with the championship favorite Miami Heat.
Kevin Garnett could be out up to two weeks with an ankle injury. Photo Credit: Keith Allison
The Celtics have lost a number of key players already this season to injury, including All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo and impressive rookie Jared Sullinger. The team has been inconsistent all season, now sitting at 36- 34 in the standings they will likely finish with their worst regular-season record since Garnett arrived in Boston in 2007. There have been a number of changes to the starting lineup and the team added four new faces at the trade deadline, all of which has contributed to their lackluster performance.
Now, with their defensive anchor and vocal leader gone for an important stretch of games coming into the playoffs, coach Doc Rivers and the rest of Garnett’s teammates will have to find a way to avoid slipping further down the standings and limping into a matchup with the defending champion Heat.
Without Garnett, the Celtics start a desperately undersized front court of Jeff Green and Brandon Bass which lacks any rim protection and struggles to secure rebounds. While Green has had some impressive performances since his elevation into the starting lineup, Boston will continue to struggle keeping opponents out of the paint or off the glass for the duration of Garnett’s stint on the sidelines. Chris Wilcox is the only real big man getting rotation minutes off the Celtics bench, while newly acquired D.J. White and Shavlik Randolph have yet to impress Rivers enough to play them other than in spot minutes or garbage time.
Despite their struggles this season, the Celtics will remain one of the toughest and least desired matchups in the Eastern Conference with their championship experience and defensive mentality. The key for this last stretch of games coming into the postseason is to secure a sixth or seventh seed, which would see them avoid the Heat until the conference finals, if both teams happened to progress that far. The task had seemed simple enough with a relatively easy schedule to finish the season and a team that finally appeared to be building chemistry, but Garnett’s injury has turned a casual run home into an unpredictable, high-pressure stretch of games that will require the remaining Celtics to adjust to playing primarily small ball.
The pressure is on Jeff Green to perform in Garnett’s absence. Photo Credit: Mark Runyon, Basketball Schedule, Flickr.com
The importance of Garnett to these Celtics cannot be underestimated and in some ways the additional rest for the 18-year veteran could prove to be a silver lining as the team enters the playoffs. Rivers had planned on giving his All-Star big man some time off down the stretch and no doubt they will be extremely cautious with his injury to ensure not only that it is 100 percent before he steps back on the court, but also any other niggling issues have time to heal as well.
So, for the remaining Celtics the mission over the next 12 games is clear; they need to build their confidence, make quick work of lottery teams and battle hard against playoff contenders to ensure they keep the Bucks in eighth position. Neither the Knicks nor the Indiana Pacers, the two most likely first-round, opponents will be pleased to see a healthy, rested Kevin Garnett leading a pack of wounded underdogs into the playoffs. If the Celtics plan on making a deep run into the playoffs yet again, they cannot wait until the first round to turn it on, they need to come together now and fight to avoid playing a team that recently had 27 wins in a row and shows no signs of slowing down.
In the playoffs, we know that anything can happen. Injuries, suspensions and upsets are a regular occurrence every single season. If the Celtics manage to avoid the Heat until the later rounds they leave open the door for another Eastern Conference team to shoot their way to an upset over the defending champions or even one of Miami’s Big Three to go down with injury. No one would wish for such a thing to happen, but these Celtics know as well as anyone how easy it is for a single injury to completely derail a playoff campaign. We have seen the Celtics defy the odds for years and even last season they were still pushing the Heat in a tough Eastern Conference finals matchup. Despite popular opinion, they will have the belief that once they get to the playoffs they can beat anybody and if Garnett comes back rejuvenated from his stint on the sidelines, it would be foolish for any team in the East to underestimate the heart of a champion team like Boston.