Smart suffered a complete tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right shooting hand while diving to the floor in a game against the Indiana Pacers earlier this month. A hand specialist in New York advised immediate surgery with hopes that Smart might be able to return even quicker than the six- to eight-week timeline the team announced after surgery.
"I am confident [I'll be back for the playoffs]," Smart said Monday night, his right arm completely wrapped, at his annual bowling fundraiser for his YounGameChanger Foundation. "I had one of the top [hand] doctors do it. The surgery was a success. Like she told me, you might as well go on and get it now. The quicker you can get it, the quicker the recovery.
"I'm real, real, real excited and eager to get back out there, whenever that is, hopefully it's sooner than later, like I said. Hopefully the team can and, like I think they're gonna do, is handle their business and have me back [in the postseason]."
Smart said he thought he simply sprained his hand after hitting the floor hard while chasing a loose ball against the Pacers. But testing the hand after swelling subsided revealed the ligament damage. Smart examined options to stay on the court for the remainder of the regular season, but doctors told him he risked further complications that might force him out of action.
"The first [thing] was could I damage it any more?" Smart said. "When we went to get the second opinion, they said the same thing: The ligament is torn completely. There's nothing else you can do. Then there was, 'OK, could I possibly play with it and get the surgery afterwards?' That came into play and when she said -- the doctor pretty much said, 'If it was me, I would get this now. The longer you wait, the harder it [will be] and cause more complications. So just get it over with and then there's a possibility you could be back sooner than you thought.'"
Smart wouldn't put a timetable on his return but suggested he won't try to rush anything. He did note, "I'm just going to attack this rehab, this rehab process like I have in the past and try to come back as strong as possible."
Smart said he and Gordon Hayward were rehabbing in Boston's training facility on Monday.
"It's good to see him walking and everything like that. But, yeah, I've got a workout partner," Smart said.
While the Celtics have been steadfast that Hayward is unlikely to return this season -- with coach Brad Stevens saying earlier this month that "[Hayward is] not playing this year" -- Celtics fans will daydream of Smart and Hayward pushing each other through rehab with a goal of returning for the postseason.
Smart chuckled at the suggestion.
"No we haven't really discussed that," Smart said. "It's kind of touchy. Take it day by day."
Smart said it hasn't entered his mind that, if he's unable to return before Boston's season ends, he might have played his final game in a Celtics uniform. Smart is a restricted free agent this summer, though he made a strong pitch for why the Celtics should bring him back with his post-All-Star Game play after returning from a separate right hand injury.
"My biggest concern was getting this fixed and being ready for whenever I come back," Smart said. "So I haven't given [whether he'd played his last game in Boston] much thought."
The Celtics are currently playing without Smart, Hayward, Daniel Theis (season-ending knee surgery last week), Jaylen Brown (concussion) and Kyrie Irving (sore knee). All five players have been ruled out again for Tuesday's visit from the Thunder. Smart said it's tough to watch the Celtics struggle with the injuries but believes they'll get healthier and right the ship before the postseason.
"It's brutal, especially when you feel like you can get out there and you know you could help your team in ways," Smart said. "When you're sidelined, there's nothing you can do. It's tough."