Boston’s season wasn’t supposed to go like this.
With Gordon Hayward newly signed and the trade to add Kyrie Irving from the rival Cavaliers, the Celtics were primed to challenge LeBron James and Cleveland for the Eastern Conference mantle.
But Hawyard went down in the first five minutes of the season, and it turned out Irving’s left knee was a bigger problem than expected, leaving the Celtics without their top players with the playoffs approaching.
On Wednesday, at the end of a West-coast road trip, the Celtics got more bad news. Al Horford would miss their matchup against the Utah Jazz with a sprained ankle suffered on Monday against the Phoenix Suns. For good measure, Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart are also on the injured list.
So considering that the Celtics thrust a dude named Guerschon Yabusele into the starting lineup in the fourth game of a West-cost swing against a desperate, healthy Jazz team fighting for the last playoff spot in the West, even the saltiest of Boston fans could forgive a loss on Wednesday.
Expect they didn’t have to. Because the Celtics toughed it out to give Jaylen Brown a chance to do this.
Brown’s game winner sealed the deal on a 97-94 win.
“I wanted it to sting a little bit,” Brown told ESPN after the game of a message he had for former teammate and Jazz player Jae Crowder of his shot.
“We’ve been resilient all year. We’ve got a great coach in Brad Stevens, but we’ve got a lot of really good talent. We’ve been the next guy up mentality all year. I think that we deserve a little more credit.”
The win against Utah wasn’t a one-off for the hobbled C’s. It capped a 4-0 road trip and fifth straight win for Boston.
If the current makeup of the team isn’t what the Celtics had hoped for in the offseason, the results in the standings aren’t too far off. Boston finds itself in second place in the Eastern Conference, sitting three games back of the Toronto Raptors and a whopping seven games ahead of the Cavs.
With Hayward and now Irving out, young players like Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum have been given a chance to shine. Now both players are ahead of schedule.
It’s a testament to the resilience of the Celtics roster and the leadership of Stevens.
Hayward’s always slim hopes of returning this season appear to be snuffed out, and Irving’s status moving forward is a mystery. How this version of the Celtics is built for the rigors of the playoffs is yet to be seen. But it will be tough for anyone in the East to count them out.
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