Boston Celtics

Kyrie Irving. Al Horford. Jaylen Brown. Marcus Smart. Daniel Theis. A laundry list of impactful Celtics grabbed some pine for Wednesday’s night’s game against Washington.

For Theis, it was a hospital bed.

The other four, along with Jayson Tatum, routinely see the most minutes in Boston’s rotation. They played a major role in Boston’s 16-game winning streak and rapid ascent to the top of the Eastern Conference earlier in the season. And while Horford is probable to return on Friday in Orlando and the team hopes Irving can get back on the court this weekend, the Celtics don’t project to be 100 percent anytime soon.

Al Hortford dribbles the ball for the Boston Celtics against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 18, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Al Hortford dribbles the ball for the Boston Celtics against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 18, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

After the All-Star break, the team put a topsy-turvy post-London period (9 losses in 15 games) in the rearview mirror with a stretch of six wins in seven contests. While they didn’t exactly face a murderer’s row (only the Rockets and Timberwolves entered those games above .500), Brad Stevens’ squad was able to stack up a few wins without taxing the starters. The debut of Greg Monroe, and the return of Smart from self-inflicted injury, gave fans a glimpse of a super-effective bench unit fit for a postseason run.

With Monroe banging down low, Smart pestering the opposition, Theis acting as a reasonable facsimile of Horford, and Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris launching from the perimeter, the bench looked like a strength for the first time all year. Considering Boston’s main rival in the East, the Toronto Raptors, boast the strongest reserve squad in the league, it was a particularly encouraging development.

But now, Theis is done for the year. Today we learned that Smart will undergo thumb surgery and has, at best, a murky hope to return during the playoffs. And in the meantime, what’s left of the bench must shoulder a heavy burden.

Marcus Smart (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Marcus Smart (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Monroe, Morris and Rozier received their first expanded assignments on Wednesday night. “The Moose“, still knocking off rust after being left to oxidize in Phoenix, logged 25 minutes for the first time in green. He responded with a tidy 16 and 10 line, a team-best plus-17 in his time on the floor. Morris’ 44 minutes were a season-high; he’s only topped 30 in 9 games as a Celtic, all of them since the tail end of January. His 31 points were also a season-best. And while Rozier has reveled in an expanded role during his breakout campaign, his 47 minutes were 11 more than he’d played in a game all year. Only two other games topped the 35-minute mark.

With so much firepower on the sideline, Morris and Rozier were forced to create against the Wizards. The forward sunk exactly half of his 22 field goal attempts (including 4-of-8 from downtown), and while Rozier’s shot selection was a bit acrobatic at times, he did contribute some key buckets down the stretch.

The hope is that these guys and Tatum aren’t your primary options in April, May, or perhaps June. But they might be for the time being. Kyrie Irving’s career high is 75 games played. He’s missed significant time in three of his six NBA seasons. The pain in his knee isn’t going away. Al Horford is 32 years old and has seen his numbers fall off over the last month. You knew you were going to have to rest those guys down the stretch, and Brown’s concussion was scary and should be handled with care.

BOSTON, MA – DECEMBER 4: Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics dunks during the second half of the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden on December 4, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Bucks 111-100. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

With the two-seed all but locked up (unless the Pacers, banged-up Cavs or Wizards go on some kind of crazy run), and Toronto somewhere on the horizon with 14 games remaining, the Celtics can afford to be conservative. Friday’s game against Orlando is a prime example. Yes, the Magic had enough to beat the Bucks on Wednesday night. But they’re also 27 games under .500. The more Monroe and Morris (shooting 48% from the field over his last six games) can get into a groove as first-year Celtics, the more Rozier hones his decision-making in new and different situations, the better off the team will be as the weather warms in Boston.

In the meantime, Irving, Horford and Brown can deal with their maladies. Even without Theis, Smart and Gordon Hayward, this is one of the premier rosters in the NBA. The cohesion of that talent and its ability to step up in big situations could prove to be the difference between prosperity and disappointment in the spring.

Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.