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"This Saturday, Celtics guard Kyrie Irving will undergo a procedure to remove two screws implanted in his left patella after the patellar fracture he suffered during the NBA Finals in 2015", a Boston statement read. Now, reportedly, he'll have two screws removed from his left knee, which were also believed to be contributing to the discomfort.

You'll get plenty of bright-side outlooks coming out of New England after this.

The Celtics have been bitten by the injury bug all season long, and it's been incredibly harsh in recent weeks.

"It's obviously going to be one of those three", he said, according to the Boston Globe.

But while the Cavaliers can't catch the Celtics by next week, the presumption is without Irving, LeBron James has a clear path back to the NBA Finals. And it will be no slam dunk that Stevens and the crew will be able to solve Giannis Antetokounmpo, or the recently returned John Wall and the Wizards, or Goran Dragic and the Heat.

But in the playoffs when it's just one team for at least four games, overcoming the absence of a player of Irving's caliber is extremely hard.

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All three teams entered Thursday with 36 losses, making the fight for seventh a complicated affair. But that was without Wall. Irving has been crucially important to parts of Boston's offense, but the team's defense has been largely responsible for its success this season. They have four regular season games left. That possibility, for all intents and purposes, went out the window the second Gordon Hayward went down in the season opener. Irving ranks 13th among point guards in RPM this season, with a +2.5 mark (meaning he adds that many points to Boston's bottom line per 100 possessions).

The Celtics remain hopeful that Marcus Smart will return early in the playoffs.

Irving, 26, was initially expected to return during the playoffs following last month's operation. He said that over and over. Now is the time to look forward to next year when Irving and Hayward will hopefully be on the court together for many games.

Look, the 2017-18 Celtics weren't winning the National Basketball Association title anyway - even if a healthy Irving still existed and an 85 percent Hayward returned at some point this spring. Even though the Raptors are notorious for choking in the playoffs, this team is much better than those of past years.

You can bet Boston will still be a tough out without Irving, but the ceiling obviously lowers considerably. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are emerging. If the injuries continue, they could undermine Boston's plans entirely. But the playoffs will be a different animal.

But again, it's experience you just can't get without being thrown into the fire. This season was only a snapshot of what's to come from me.


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