BOSTON – On Thursday afternoon after practice, Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka took a question about how his team played without Marcus Smart, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, in their Game 2 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Udoka looked up and noticed Smart’s green-tipped hair standing behind a row of cameras and decided it was time to have a little bit of fun.
“We don’t really even need Marcus, honestly,” Udoka deadpanned before glancing to the back of the room as he nodded at Smart, who was having a good laugh.
It was easy for both men to be in a joyful mood for two reasons: The Celtics defeated the Bucks in Game 2 on Tuesday to even the Eastern Conference semifinal series, and there’s a good chance Smart will be back for Game 3 in Milwaukee on Saturday .
Smart said there’s a “strong likelihood” he’ll be available for the contest after missing Game 2 because of a right quad contusion. He sat out the game, a commanding 109-86 victory for the Celtics, after getting hit multiple times in the muscle in Game 1.
Smart said he was hit closer to the knee and that the fluid building up from the injury was restricting movement there. Getting that movement back would be the last hurdle to clear before allowing him to get back on the court.
“Once that goes away, I should be back to feeling to myself,” Smart said. “Everything else is healing up the right way.”
Udoka said Smart got some on-court work in during Thursday’s practice.
“We’ll know more tomorrow based on how it feels today,” Udoka said. “But obviously looks better today than he did. Just moving around, walking around the last few days when he couldn’t go. We’ll know more tomorrow.”
Smart said he couldn’t sleep prior to Game 2 or get his normal pregame nap in because he was so antsy about missing the game.
“Just wishing I was out there with my guys,” Smart said. “It’s really tough. My guys know, anybody who knows me understands that if I’m gonna miss a game, especially a playoff game, something’s really gotta be really wrong.”
This isn’t the first time Smart has dealt with the injury this season. He missed six games in January with a right quad contusion and said this time that it’s not just a similar injury – it’s the same thing.
“Literally the exact same one in the exact same spot. Just reacgravated the same injury that I’ve been dealing with,” Smart said. “As we all know, injuries like that, they’re kind of linger.”
Throughout Game 2, Smart interacted with teammates and was pointing out things he saw in real time, trying to help as best he could.
Teammate Robert Williams III said they are looking forward to getting back to full strength with Smart.
“Obviously, it’s encouraging to see him taking any steps forward,” Williams said. “I told him, ‘Make sure you’re good. We want you out there, but make sure you’re straight.'”
When Smart does make his return to the series, he wants to be the player who was named the league’s top defender this season and nothing short of that.
“I mean, for me if I’m out there, I should be able to do the things that I was doing, or I shouldn’t be out there,” Smart said.
“So when I come back, I’m coming back to be me, that’s all I can really say about that. Because if I’m not out there, it’s because I didn’t feel like I was 100 percent to be out there. and do the things I think I’m supposed to be doing. “