The Celtics’ sudden revival in the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals has not included a resurgence for Malcolm Brogdon.
The Sixth Man of the Year continues to battle an obscure forearm injury that forced him out after just under eight minutes of playing time in Game 5. Brogdon is listed as questionable on Boston’s Game 6 injury report as of Friday night with a right forearm strain.
Jared Weiss of The Athletic previously reported that Brogdon has been playing through a partially torn tendon in his elbow, and was even dealing with soreness dating back to the second round before aggravating the injury in Game 1.
Though Brogdon’s current health is a bit unclear, the injury is undoubtedly hampering his impact. He’s shooting just 33% from the field in the conference finals and a dismal 3-of-16 from long range. Brogdon’s minutes have significantly decreased in every subsequent game this series, and he’s made one field goal across the last three contests.
If Brogdon can’t go on Saturday, increased pressure obviously falls on Derrick White and Marcus Smart to make shots and drive the basketball. But even if Brogdon is given the green light, how effective can he be?
Brogdon is instrumental to the Celtics’ offensive goals. He’s driving the ball 7.8 times per game in the postseason, the third-most on the entire team behind only Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, even despite a natural decrease to 6.4 this series due to his limited minutes.
The Celtics traded for Brogdon last summer because they needed his punch in the paint. Throughout this season, when they’ve lost their spark, he’s been unafraid to buckle down and zoom to the basket. Dribble penetration is going to help Boston bend Miami’s zone and overall defense. Brogdon helps keep that pressure on.
But his perimeter scoring, in all facets, is what helped him to an award-winning level this year. The 30-year-old took an unreal leap as a shooter.
According to PBP Stats, Brogdon was one of 60 NBA players to attempt more than 100 “self-created” threes (attempts after holding the ball for at least two seconds) and “assisted” threes (attempts in under two seconds). Amazingly, Brogdon shot a near-identical 44.1% and 44.6% in those contexts, respectively. He ranked first in that group of 60 on pull-ups and third on the catch-and-shoot side.
Brogdon fit in so many offensive roles for Boston. He could be a spacer in a five-out setting. He could initiate with a threatening pull-up jumper or bail the team out late in the clock. And we watched him extend his success into the postseason until the untimely injury.
It’s admirable Brogdon has battled through pain — but the word is out. Can the Heat sag off of him because they know he’s nursing an injury? Can Brogdon draw defenders to the same degree?
The ultimate make-or-miss team ☘️
As predicted, the Celtics will live and die by the 3.
They have found quality looks from 3FG through the series. But the outcome has been heavily tied to their 3FG% that night. pic.twitter.com/UhoY0BkqWU
— ShotQuality (@Shot_Quality) May 26, 2023
Then there’s a note like this. Everyone is aware that Boston wants to shoot threes from all spots on the floor at a high rate. Brogdon can and should continue to shoot them even while he’s hurt. But how much do his misses harm the team?
That being said, the Celtics need him on the floor for his additional roles as a driver and passer. Payton Pritchard, as great a shooter as he is, doesn’t offer much inside the arc, and would also be a concern against a Heat defense that loves to hunt mismatches.
Joe Mazzulla could also opt to squeeze the rotation further, putting more onus on Marcus Smart and Derrick White to create off the dribble with the Jays. Are they ready to add more on-ball usage to their other responsibilities?
In the regular season — or even a different playoff series — Boston could be content to rest Brogdon or let him power through the struggles. But the Celtics fumbled away room to experiment when they went down 3-0.
Mazzulla has to nail practically every managerial decision if his team wants to make a historic comeback. The Brogdon dilemma — whether or not to play him, how much, and in what contexts — is one of the next big tests for the young head coach.