Can Celtics Beat Heat Without Marcus Smart Amid Rumors About PG's Injury Status?

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2022

Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series Monday, May 9, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Morry Gash/Associated Press

The Boston Celtics survived a seven-game series with the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks, capping it with an impressive 109-81 victory on Sunday. Two days later, they're about to face another stiff challenge against the top-seeded Miami Heat.

As was the case for much of the Bucks series, Boston may have to battle Miami without one of its notable contributors.

Against Milwaukee, the Celtics were without center Robert Williams for the final four games because of knee soreness. He was inactive for three of the four games and did not come off the bench in Game 7. While Williams should be back against Miami, point guard Marcus Smart is questionable with a mid-foot sprain.

Boston Celtics @celtics

Marcus Smart suffered a mid-foot sprain in Game 7 against the Bucks, according to Coach Udoka, and is questionable for Game 1 against the Heat. Rob Williams will be available with no minutes restriction.

Missing Smart would be a blow, as the 28-year-old has been a big piece of the puzzle for Boston this year. During the regular season, he averaged 32.3 minutes, 12.1 points, 5.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 71 starts.

The Celtics went 5-6 in games without him.

Smart has been even more impactful during the postseason, averaging 36.6 minutes, 15.0 points, 6.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds. If he can't go, Boston will have to rely more heavily on midseason trade acquisition Derrick White.

The good news, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, is that the MRI on Smart's foot came back clean, and the Celtics have hope that he'll be able to play:

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Smart underwent an MRI today on that right foot and the imaging returned clean, sources tell ESPN. There’s hope he’ll be ready for Game 1 and Celtics will see how it feels on Tuesday in Miami. https://t.co/pAruJK3cbN

The better news is that Boston is prepared for challenges like this. Brad Stevens has established a deep roster that doesn't rely solely on standouts like Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. One of the stars of Game 7 was Grant Williams (27 points, seven three-pointers), who saw extensive playing time because of Robert Williams' injury.

"Grant won us a playoff game tonight," Taytum said, per ESPN's Andrew Lopez. "A Game 7."

White will be the next man up if Smart can't go, and the Celtics should have confidence in him. While the 27-year-old wasn't particularly consistent upon his arrival in Boston, he rounded into form late in the season and in the playoffs.

While Smart is a key defensive contributor for Boston—and also the 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year—White can be, too. His defense was critical in the Game 4 win over Milwaukee—according to Brian Robb of MassLive, the Bucks shot 0-12 with White as the primary defender in that game.

The Celtics, meanwhile, play tremendous team defense. According to Team Rankings, Boston leads the league in defensive efficiency. As StatMuse pointed out, Boston was the only team to hold Milwaukee under 90 points this season, and it did so twice.

Boston's defense isn't going to crumble if Smart cannot go.

Yes, the Bucks were without All-Star Khris Middleton (knee), but they still had Giannis Antetokounmpo and a 3-2 series lead.

Boston did not luck into a win over the defending champs.

Our proof is in our record in the second half of the season," coach Ime Udoka said, per Bleacher Report's Joseph Zucker. "We are not a fluke."

Boston is poised to prove it on Tuesday against the Heat, who will be without star point guard Kyle Lowry (hamstring) for at least Game 1.

With centerpieces like Tatum and Brown available, key role players like White and Al Horford in the mix—and with Lowry out for Miami—Boston absolutely can win without Smart early in this series. winning the entire series without Smart will be more challenging, but the Celtics should take his injury status on a game-by-game basis.

Boston should not look to rush Smart back before he's ready because they should be prepared for a championship run. As Udoka said, this team is no fluke. This Celtics team is built to win a championship, and it should have its sight set beyond getting past Miami.

A date with the Dallas Mavericks or Golden State Warriors is waiting for the Celtics. If they absolutely have to, they can get there without Smart.