BOSTON – The Celtics announced Saturday afternoon that Isaiah Thomas has been ruled out for the remainder of the 2017 NBA Playoffs as a result of a right hip injury.
The team stated that Thomas originally injured the hip back on March 15 against Minnesota, causing him to miss two games, and that the injury was re-aggravated during Game 6 against Washington.
“The swelling increased during the first two games against Cleveland,” Celtics Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian McKeon commented, “and in order to avoid more significant long-term damage to his hip, we could no longer allow him to continue.”
This is a massive blow to the Celtics, as it is no secret how important Thomas is to the their offense. He is the only go-to scoring threat on the roster, and one that averaged an Eastern Conference-leading 28.9 points per game this season. He is the heartbeat of Boston’s offense.
The Celtics will now be forced to play without Thomas’ offensive repertoire for only the seventh time this season when it takes the court Sunday night for Game 3 against Cleveland. There is no doubt that Boston will need to receive significant boosts from other players, and here are a few options they may look to.
More Actions for Avery Bradley
There aren’t many options on Boston’s team outside of Thomas when it comes to isolation offense. With that being known, the team will need to create offense in other ways.
Avery Bradley is the best option on the team for which to run specific, off-the-ball actions. He is one of the more reliable shooters in the league off of pin-downs, staggered screens and curls, as evidenced by his average of 1.008 points per play off of screens in 2016-17. That number ranked in the 71st percentile in the league, according to Synergy.
We might see many more of these actions being run for Bradley during Game 3 and beyond, as they are some of Boston’s most reliable options for scoring. All of that being said, the presence of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, who have been very strong perimeter defenders for the Cavs over the last couple of seasons, cannot be discounted.
Al Horford in the Post
Kevin Love has never been regarded as a great post defender. With that in mind, it has been surprising that the Celtics have not attempted to isolate him in the post more often with the likes of Al Horford.
Horford was a very reliable scoring option in the post this season. Post-ups were actually his leading offensive possession type during his first campaign in Boston.
The Celtics tend to run an up-tempo offense that is perimeter-oriented, with consistent dribble hand-offs and lots of movement. Going to Horford in the post on a regular basis may slow the offense down, but with Thomas sidelined, this may be a route that is necessary for the Celtics to take.
Marcus Smart as a Starter
Many predicted heading into Game 2 that Stevens would opt to start Marcus Smart at small forward in a small-ball lineup. Stevens instead chose to start Gerald Green, and then Green only played 14 minutes. The Smart conversation is certainly now back on the table.
Stevens and those who watch the Celtics know that the team will receive max effort from Smart every moment he is on the floor. He may not be a great shooter, and he may commit some turnovers, but his effort level is contagious, and it may be what the team needs for a spark out of the gates.
Additionally, Smart has been passing the ball very well during this postseason run. He has led the team in assists twice during the postseason, including Friday night with seven, and he is third on the team this postseason with 70 assists. If Kyrie Irving were to be matched up with him, the Celtics would also have the option of using Smart in the post, which has been a very successful tactic throughout this season.
All-in on 3-Point Shooting
One last option for Boston is to go all-in on 3-point shooting. And while many may already believe that the team’s offense is predicated upon 3-point shooting, it’s not.
Stevens inverts his big men – who are skilled passers – to play on the perimeter to open up space for passing lanes and off-the-ball cuts and actions. Layups are always the main goal, but Stevens tells his players to take 3s if they are quality looks at the basket.
Game 3 may be a different story. The Celtics could turn to a live-or-die-by-the-3 mindset, with the team relying heavily upon the its top 3-point shooting threats: Bradley, Jae Crowder, Horford, Green, Terry Rozier and Kelly Olynyk. The Celtics could very well play small-ball around either Horford or Olynyk while putting a much higher emphasis on creating more and taking more quality 3-point shots.