Celtics making unprecedented playoff run without their top regular-season player, Kyrie Irving

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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The Celtics’ season as they envisioned it ended when Gordon Hayward went down with a gruesome leg injury in the first game.

The Celtics’ season as they knew it ended when Kyrie Irving underwent surgery that’d keep him out for the playoffs.

Boston had grand dreams of Hayward and Irving leading the team deep into the playoffs, but those were dashed nearly immediately. Without Hayward, the Celtics were viewed as a team that must scratch and claw its way just into the postseason.

Months later, we learned the truth: Boston was still very good. The Celtics won 55 games and secured the No. 2 seed.

Hayward is a prominent character in the narrative of Boston’s 2017-18 season. But the actual on-court results? He was irrelevant.

Irving, on the other hand, was integral to the team’s on-court success. He was an All-Star, MVP-ballot candidate and the Celtics’ best player. Not only did he lead them, they spent the year building chemistry around him.

And then he was sidelined, too.

Weakened, Boston entered the playoffs with little hope. Nearly every statistical evaluation of Boston’s chances factored Irving’s contributions. Those that tried to exclude him didn’t view the Celtics favorably.

Yet, Boston beat the Bucks in the first round and the 76ers in the second round. Young players Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier are stepping up. Al Horford is a star who dialed it up a level. Brad Stevens is out-coaching his counterparts.

This is a momentous rally.

From the NBA-ABA merger until this year, teams were 0-10 in playoff series without their top regular-season player, as defined by win shares. The 2018 Celtics are 2-0 entering the Eastern Conference finals.

Boston is the first team in NBA history to win multiple playoff series without its regular-season win shares leader.

The last to win at all was the 1971 Lakers, who beat the Bulls in the conference semifinals (then the opening round) then lost to the Bucks in the conference finals without Jerry West. Yes, it was so far back, Los Angeles was playing Chicago and Milwaukee in the Western Conference playoffs.

At least the league was known as the National Basketball Association by then. The only other two teams to win a series without their regular-season win-share leaders did it when it was still called the Basketball Association of America.

Here’s every playoff run by a team missing its regular-season win-share leader:

2016 Memphis Grizzlies (Mike Conley)

Lost to San Antonio Spurs in first round, 4-0

2013 Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant)

Lost to San Antonio Spurs in first round, 4-0

2010 Milwaukee Bucks (Andrew Bogut)

Lost to Atlanta Hawks in first round, 4-3

2008 Houston Rockets (Yao Ming)

Lost to Utah Jazz in first round, 4-2

2007 Washington Wizards (Gilbert Arenas)

Lost to Cleveland Cavaliers in first round, 4-0

2002 Toronto Raptors (Vince Carter)

Lost to Detroit Pistons in first round, 3-2

2000 San Antonio Spurs (Tim Duncan)

Lost to Phoenix Suns in first round, 3-1

1992 San Antonio Spurs (David Robinson)

Lost to Phoenix Suns in first round, 3-0

1986 Utah Jazz (Adrian Dantley)

Lost to Dallas Mavericks in first round, 3-1

1985 Phoenix Suns (Larry Nance)

Lost to Los Angeles Lakers in first round, 3-0

1971 Los Angeles Lakers (Jerry West)

Beat Chicago Bulls in conference semifinals, 4-3

Lost to Milwaukee Bucks in conference finals, 4-1

1950  Tri-Cities Blackhawks (Don Otten)

Lost to Anderson Packers in division semifinals, 2-1

1949 Washington Capitols (Bob Feerick)*

Beat Philadelphia Warriors in division semifinals, 2-0

Lost to Minneapolis Lakers in BAA Finals, 4-2

*Feerick played one game in the division finals, in which the Capitols beat the New York Knicks, 2-1.

1947 New York Knicks (Ossie Schectman)

Beat Cleveland Rebels in quarterfinals, 2-1

Lost to Philadelphia Warriors in semifinals, 2-0