The Boston Celtics announced that Marcus Smart is expected to return to basketball activities in six to eight weeks after undergoing right thumb surgery Friday. There’s hope Smart could return at some point during the playoffs, but that time line could put the rest of his season in jeopardy.

“It’s been a weird year,” Coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday night, even before he knew Smart would need surgery. Thinking about the gruesome Gordon Hayward injury, but also the recent streak of health issues, Stevens continued, “Never went through anything like this.”

How much will the Celtics miss Smart? The simple answer: A lot.

Smart is Boston’s most disruptive defender. He has developed into a creative and effective pick-and-roll passer. He runs the second unit, closes most games, and always seems to make one or two shrug-worthy “winning plays” during crunch time. He might be the only point guard alive asked to switch regularly onto big men such as Timberwolves All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns.

Smart is a key piece in several of Boston’s top lineups, including one that Stevens has used as much as any nonstarting group since the All-Star break: Kyrie Irving, Smart, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Marcus Morris. That group has racked up a monstrous plus-22.3 net rating, though the playing time (76 minutes) has been limited by assorted injuries throughout the season.

Of course, that unit’s playing time will continue to be limited. It’s even possible Smart, a restricted free agent this summer, has played his last game for the Celtics. If he has, he went out in character, tearing a ligament in his thumb while diving for a steal, then proceeding to rack up 11 points, three assists, three rebounds and three steals after the injury, almost helping his team complete a strange, hectic comeback in the final seconds.


Without Smart, the Celtics don’t have much perimeter depth left. Terry Rozier is in the midst of his best stretch ever, but the options behind him are imperfect. Shane Larkin can always be trusted to streak onto the court with overflowing energy, but size will forever limit him. The team hoped either Semi Ojeleye or Abdel Nader would step forward to earn minutes earlier this season, but neither has helped on a consistent basis. And Ojeleye has played most of his minutes in the frontcourt, where he could be needed more because of the season-ending knee surgery for backup center Daniel Theis.

Smart doesn’t always hit shots, but he offers physicality to the Celtics’ smaller units and playmaking to the bigger lineups.

When healthy, his ability to guard three (and sometimes more) positions gives Stevens all sorts of options about how to play and who to play.

Outside of Smart, the Celtics should get healthier. Horford returned Friday after a two-game absence. Brown should soon start progressing through the NBA’s concussion protocol. Irving could return as early as Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans. The starting five should be whole again soon. With a seven-game lead on the third-place Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference standings, only a disastrous finishing stretch would push the Celtics out of the No. 2 seed. They should be able to hold onto their current position.

But they will miss Smart in the games that matter. He could potentially miss a first-round playoff matchup against Miami’s Goran Dragic or Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal. If the Celtics advance, he could miss at least part of a second-round matchup with Indiana’s Victor Oladipo or Cleveland’s LeBron James.

The Celtics’ top-ranked defense has other options to send at opposing All-Stars, but Smart’s absence – much like his play – will hit hard.


WHEN ASKED about Guerschon Yabusele’s gear-stripping change of venue this week – from G League star on loan to the Maine Red Claws to making his first NBA start Wednesday against the Washington Wizards – Stevens referenced Terry Rozier’s rookie season.

“When we sent Guerschon to Maine, we (told him that) a couple of years ago we sent Terry Rozier to Maine for almost a month,” said the Celtics’ coach. “We didn’t have him in our rotation, and then Avery Bradley gets hurt and now he’s playing 20 minutes in the playoffs. That’s just the way it goes. That’s why you utilize all your resources to get everybody ready, and everybody ready to go.”

POLICE SAID former Celtics player Glen “Big Baby” Davis was arrested in a Maryland hotel last month on drug possession and distribution charges.

WMAR-TV in Baltimore reported that Davis was arrested Feb. 7.


BUCKS 122, HAWKS 117: Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 12 rebounds, Khris Middleton added 23 points and Milwaukee held on at home.


WIZARDS 109, PACERS 102: Bradley Beal scored 19 points, Marcin Gortat had 18 and Washington won at home in a possible playoff preview.

ROCKETS 107, PELICANS 101: James Harden had 32 points and 11 rebounds at New Orleans, and Houston won for the 21st time in 22 games.

KNICKS 124, HORNETS 101: Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 25 points and New York won at home to snap a nine-game losing streak.

NETS 114, MAVERICKS 106: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 23 points, D’Angelo Russell had 22 and Brooklyn recovered after blowing a double-digit lead at New York.

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