Kyrie Irving Injury Kills Celtics’ Championship Hopes
Entering the 2017-18 NBA season, most experts believed the revamped Boston Celtics had a legitimate shot to come out of the Eastern Conference. Despite reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last year, GM Danny Ainge effectively overhauled the entire roster last summer. Out went guys like Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas. In came the likes of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum.
Boston got off to a flying start despite losing Hayward to a season-ending broken leg in the first game of the year. Irving had plenty to do with that, as the ex-Cavaliers All-Star was enjoying an excellent first season in Boston. Unfortunately, Irving was forced to undergo knee surgery back on March 24 in order to alleviate some pain. The surgery was expected to keep Irving sidelined for the remainder of the regular season, but the Celtics were hopeful he would be able to return for the playoffs.
However, the Celtics announced on Thursday that Irving will undergo a second operation on the same knee in order to remove a pair of screws from his right patella. A bacterial infection was discovered at the site of the screws during his previous operation, and the second surgery will sideline Irving for the remainder of the season and postseason.
The Celtics have played pretty well since Irving went down, but this latest news effectively kills this team’s hopes of competing for a title this season. Not only that, but the Celtics sans Irving will struggle to even get to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite hovering around +800 to win the NBA title for much of the year, the Celtics are now listed way down at +2000 to lift the O’Brien Trophy this season. The Rockets, Warriors, Cavaliers and Raptors all have more favorable odds.
With Irving out of the mix, Boston will lean heavily on youngster Terry Rozier to run point. Rozier has played well in Irving’s absence this season, as he’s averaged 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 13 starts so far without Kyrie. He’s shooting only 39 percent as the starter, but he’s clearly made serious strides in his third pro campaign.
The Celtics are locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and it wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see other teams start to jockey for the No. 7 spot. Without Kyrie healthy, a team like the Bucks or the Heat would much rather face the short-handed Celtics than a fully healthy Raptors squad. Even the Sixers, who have won 12 straight, present a more daunting matchup.
The odds to win the Eastern Conference have yet to be updated, but one would imagine Boston will tumble there, too. As of this writing, the Celts are listed at +375 to represent the East in the NBA Finals, which is still behind Toronto and Cleveland. Without Irving, teams like Philadelphia, Washington and even Milwaukee may sneak ahead of the Celtics.
The news certainly helps the profit potential that comes with betting on Boston, but the NBA playoffs tend to be fairly chalky. If your team doesn’t have LeBron James, you probably aren’t getting out of the Eastern Conference. James has made 7 consecutive trips to the finals. The Cavs have endured their fair share of drama this season, but the Kyrie news makes an eighth straight Finals trip look more and more realistic for LeBron and co.
While their title hopes this season are essentially shot, the injuries have been something of a blessing in disguise. The loss of Hayward was terrible, but his absence opened up playing time on the wing for promising young players like Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The fact that those 2 were essentially thrown into the fire will be the best thing that could have happened on a long-term basis for them.
Irving’s health struggles this season have given the Celtics a longer look at Rozier, who spent most of his first 2 years on the bench. Ainge’s decision to draft Rozier in the first round a couple of years ago raised plenty of eyebrows, but Rozier’s play this season has made it look like a smart decision in the end. If nothing else, Rozier is now an interesting trade asset considering Irving has the starting point guard job on lockdown for the next few years.
Assuming Kyrie and Hayward enter next season healthy, the Celtics will be very much in the championship mix. This year, though, they’re a steep longshot to win anything without either player in the lineup.
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