BOSTON -- Celtics guard Marcus Smart engaged in shooting drills Sunday for the first time since undergoing thumb surgery last month and said he could return to action as early as the end of the first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Smart, wearing a new splint on his shooting hand, got up shots before Game 1 between the Celtics and Bucks, then expressed optimism about getting back on the court to help his injury-ravaged team should it hang around in the playoffs.
"Today was the first day with the new splint on to actually get out here and do something. So the thumb felt well," said Smart, who underwent surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament on March 16.
"We're on track for [a return in the] next three weeks, possibly Game 7 of the first round, [but] definitely second round. So we're on the right path."
Smart injured himself diving to the floor to corral a loose ball against the Indiana Pacers on March 11. It was the same night that rookie Daniel Theis tore his meniscus and Kyrie Irving played his last game of the season for the Celtics.
Combined with the loss of Gordon Hayward on opening night, the Celtics enter the postseason with just 11 healthy bodies on their 15-man roster.
Smart's return would be a needed boost for a young Celtics team. The team set a six- to eight-week timeline after his surgery.
"I've got hopes," Smart said. "We're very optimistic. But the last thing we want to do is get out there and rush anything and we're back to square one. So right now the timetable is still the same. Hopefully, over the next couple of weeks, things change and we can move it up earlier."
Pressed if there was any chance he could return earlier than a potential first-round Game 7, Smart left open the possibility.
"Like I said, we're optimistic, but we're not going to rush anything," he said. "We're going to take it slow. So I think I have another doctor's appointment, a checkup, in the next two weeks. We'll see what [the doctor] says. If she clears us to be able to start a little bit earlier, then we might. But as of right now, Game 7 [or the] second round is the [goal]."
Smart confidently shot from different spots on the court before Sunday's game.
"I have a new splint on, a smaller splint to protect the thumb from going back to the side or possible reinjury," Smart said. "So I'll be playing like that when I come back for a while, for probably the next couple of months. But this was my first time, and it felt good out there."