The Boston Celtics will again be without backup guard Shane Larkin as they begin the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Larkin, 25, missed Game 5 of the Celtics series against the Philadelphia 76ers after leaving Game 4 with a shoulder injury. He has said he is not ruling out a return during the playoffs, but NESN reports that he is likely out for the entire Cleveland series and will miss at least games 1 and 2.
“He’s not going to play in either of these games, and I doubt we see him in this series,” Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens told reporters on Saturday. “I don’t anticipate him back anytime soon.” He said Larkin is “very, very sore.”
Larkin’s absence will leave Boston’s already limited bench even shorter.
Larkin was injured with about 1:30 left in the first quarter of Game 4 against Philadelphia as he tried to get around a hard screen from the 76ers’ Joel Embiid. The 5’11’ Larkin ran into the 7″ Embiid near the 3-point line and immediately grabbed his arm, which hung limp at his side. Larkin left the game and did not return. He was later diagnosed with a shoulder strain. You can watch video of his injury below:
Larkin, a point guard who played at the University of Miami, has been a key contributor off the bench for the Celtics since they lost another guard, star Kyrie Irving, to an injury earlier this season. Larkin was averaging about 15-20 minutes per game for Boston during the playoffs. The son of MLB Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, Shane joined the Celtics during the off-season after stints with the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and in Europe.
His injury will not require surgery, but he told reporters he is still experiencing pain and discomfort. He said an MRI “showed a [few] little problems in there,” but did not go into details.
“But it’s still fresh; it’s still sore,” he told the Boston Globe on Wednesday. “I can’t really do much. It’s frustrating, but I’ve got to keep staying positive, keep getting treatment and try to get back out there. Just continue to get treatment and try to get the swelling to go down. Try to get the range of motion back in my shoulder, try to stay vigilant in my work ethic, keep my legs ready and just hope I can get back out there.”
With Larkin out of the lineup in Game 5, starting guard Terry Rozier played all 40 minutes, instead of his usual 35-38 minutes. It remains to be seen how Stevens will set the rotation against the Cavaliers and whether another bench player, like Semi Ojeleye, could be asked to play more minutes as Rozier and Marcus Smart rotate at the point guard spot.
“We’re just going to have other guys step up,” Stevens told reporters. “We’re used to that. At the end of the day, that is what it is. He’s played really well in this series. And he’s done a lot of great things for us all year and through the playoffs. It’s a bummer for him. I think that’s where you always start in these scenarios and then we’ll figure it out.”
The Celtics will be hoping the injury bug does not strike again in the Cleveland series, as Stevens will be left with short bench and no backup ball handler. Guard Kadeem Allen, who signed a late season contract, is not eligible for the playoff roster.
Celtics forward Marcus Morris told ESPN, “Next man up. Same as we’ve been doing all year. It has to be.”
Rozier told The Athletic, “This has been our team. We had to get Game 1 without Jaylen Brown, so the story continues. It’s just the way it goes.”
Larkin expressed frustration on Instagram about being stuck on the sideline as Boston clinched the series victory over the 76ers last week. “Upset I couldn’t be out there with my teammates last night,” he wrote.
The Celtics have overcome several major injuries this season to make a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Key free agent signing Gordon Hayward suffered a broken ankle during the season opener against the Cavaliers and has missed the entire season. Former Cleveland star Kyrie Irving, acquired in a trade by the Celtics this off-season, injured his knee and will also miss the playoffs. Daniel Theis is also out for the playoffs with a knee injury. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown have both missed time during the postseason, but will be playing against Cleveland.
Stevens told reporters that his team’s mental toughness has been key to reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.
“First of all, I think mental toughness, being able to move on to the next play, being able to do the next right thing that can grow within somebody, for sure,” Stevens said. “If I look at myself as a 20-year-old player there’s no way I would have had the mental fortitude after 20 years of coaching. I think players get better at that all the time. I think it helps when you have great role models in that regard. But mental toughness in general isn’t being the most physical or just being able to make the big shot. It’s being able to do your job on the next play every single time. That’s hard to do. That consistency isn’t for everyone. And that’s why it’s the mark of really good players.”