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The Celtics Should Try Three Dramatic Player Returns Next Time

Marcus Smart returns to the court after an injury in Game 3
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Marcus Smart went down in the third quarter, and it looked bad. The Celtics guard was writhing and screaming on the floor; the replay showed that he'd rolled his ankle while coming down from a rebound attempt, and Kyle Lowry's big ass had accidentally fallen upon his leg. The C's were already down 13 points, and they had just lost the heart of their defense. The Miami Heat were in ideal territory for a Game 3 road win.

But then, only a few minutes later—could it be? Is that Marcus Smart coming out of the locker room, and jogging out of the tunnel with a limp as the Boston crowd goes wild? Unbelievable!

Smart's a player who makes his bones by taking charges and embellishing contact, but that certainly wasn't a flop. Speaking from personal experience, it's possible to roll your ankle and still move around on it in the following minutes, before the swelling gets bad. Continuing to play would be unwise, since it'd be really easy to exacerbate the injury, but when you're an NBA player, with that caliber of training staff, you obviously have access to NBA-level recovery techniques. Smart didn't return just to cheer on his team from the bench. He came to play:

Bang! Miami's lead down to 10! This is the 2021-22 Celtics' Paul Pierce Moment! The Heat are sick to their stomachs! They can't stop this energy!

Hmm, after further consideration: The Heat's stomachs were fine, and this energy was not that difficult to stop. Marcus Smart's ankle was messed up, and he clearly couldn't run or take the ball up the court. The fourth quarter was underway, and the Heat still led by double digits. They were doing so without Jimmy Butler, who left at halftime with knee inflammation. But—oh no! Midway through the fourth, Jayson Tatum was now on the floor in agony. He had hurt his shoulder as he reached to retrieve his own turnover caused by Victor Oladipo:

The Celtics were down by nine; if Tatum was seriously hurt, this series might be over. He's fundamental to this team's success. But—hold on, is that Jayson Tatum's music?

Another Paul Pierce Moment! The roof is shaking! Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is about to barf all over his clipboard! Allah has blessed the Boston Celtics! They are the most virtuous warriors to ever grace Earth! Miami's lead is down to four with 2:40 left in the game, and after a Jaylen Brown three, it's down to one!

...And then Max Strus responded with a three-pointer, and turnovers—the factor that haunted the Celtics the entire game, the reason they found themselves in an early deficit—doomed Boston from ever completing the comeback. The Heat took Game 3, 109-103. Miami's relentless defense collected a total of 19 steals, a franchise playoff record, and forced a total of 24 turnovers. In reality, the dramatic returns of Smart and Tatum were good at boosting morale, but not much else; also in reality, Tatum shot 3-for-14 from the field and had six TOs. If the Celtics want to take Game 4, they should try three Paul Pierce Moments.

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