Make no mistake, Sunday's loss to the Brooklyn Nets stung for the Boston Celtics, in large part because it was a chance to bestow another loss to a team whose unprotected first-round pick will be delivered in June.
But let's face it: Boston can only have an impact on four of Brooklyn's 82 games this season -- less than 5 percent of its schedule. The quality of the pick the Nets deliver is largely outside of the Celtics' control.
No, the loss that really stung Sunday was the news that second-year guard Marcus Smart will miss at least two weeks due to a lower leg injury sustained in Friday's lopsided win over the Nets.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens stressed that the injury isn't a long-term concern, but admitted that Smart will be sidelined for at least two weeks -- and that sounds like the most optimistic of timelines. Even if Smart misses only 14 days, he'll still be sidelined for seven games (including five on the road) at a time when Boston was starting to play some inspired basketball.
Stevens said Smart has a subluxation of the proximal tibfib joint. So what exactly is the second-year guard dealing with?
"The proximal tibfib joint is where the top of the fibula, the little bone on the outside of the leg, is attached to the tibia, the large shin bone," explained Dr. Mark Adickes, co-medical director of the Ironman Sports Medicine Institute at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. Adickes is a former NFL lineman and previously worked with the Houston Rockets' medical staff.
"If you have a subluxation, the contact tore ligaments as the fibulae head actually moved out of place and then returned to an anatomical position. I liken this injury to an MCL in that it is a soft-tissue injury that has great blood supply and generally heals on its own, provided the fibula is in the correct position."
Smart, who banged knees with Brooklyn's Thomas Robinson and fell awkwardly in the fourth quarter of Friday's game, would have required surgery if the fibulae head had remained dislocated, Adickes said. Stevens termed it a "really unique injury," one that Boston sought multiple opinions on, but said the team believes Smart will heal with rest and rehab.
But is two weeks a reasonable timeline to expect Smart back in?
"Like an MCL, you need the soft tissue to heal in the joint such that it is relatively pain free allowing for return to play," said Dr. Adickes. "A two-week return is possible, but 4-6 weeks is a more conservative and likely timetable."
A six-week recovery would sideline Smart into the new calendar year. Boston plays 14 games in December with five games left in November. Stevens has praised his stable of backcourt players, suggesting the team has five potential starters, but Smart's absence was obvious Sunday.
The Nets scored 59 first-half points while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor. Ball-handlers attacked the basket largely undeterred, and the shots they did miss were typically cleaned up on the offensive glass with Boston big men out of position from shuffling to help.
Smart is a big reason that, through Friday's win, Boston sat atop the league in defensive rating. Much of his impact can be overlooked, including how he harasses the player he's assigned when that player doesn't have the ball. Smart is an antagonizer, a disruptor. And his absence was palpable as the Nets got wherever they wanted on Sunday.
As Stevens noted, "They did a great job attacking us, let’s put it that way. We were not in their vicinity sometimes."
Smart has struggled to be a consistent offensive threat this season and Boston has often scored more efficiently when he's on the bench. The Celtics' offensive rating jumps nearly four points to 103.3 when Smart is off the floor this season. But what that overlooks is the way his presence allows Boston to utilize either Isaiah Thomas or Avery Bradley in a reserve role, adding a scoring punch off the pine that has helped Boston's second unit thrive.
Asked before Sunday's game how Boston would compensate for Smart's minutes, Stevens said he expected Jonas Jerebko to play more and Boston would give more minutes to some of its younger guards. Jerebko was up-and-down on Sunday (always hustling, but out of place at times in the first half). Rookie Terry Rozier, summonsed from the D-League, couldn't help steady a shaky offense in the first half and Stevens went with R.J. Hunter for guard minutes in the second half. (He didn't put up a shot, but was plus-8 in plus/minus over 7.5 minutes.)
Smart's absence means a bigger load for guys like Bradley (nearly 40 minutes Sunday), Thomas and Evan Turner. While Bradley and Thomas carried the offensive load, the Celtics need more from others to mask Smart's absence on the defensive end.
"I appreciate what people say about our defense, but you have to defend. It’s all a moot point if you don’t do it every single night," Stevens said. "And what we are normally, you have to be that on that given night."
The Celtics slid to fourth in the league in defensive rating following Sunday's loss. And if Smart is going to miss extended time, Boston needs its depth more than ever to help bridge the gap.
Forget about the draft pick, that will take care of itself. If Boston has high hopes for the current season, it needs to showcase its depth while one of its top contributors is out.