Barbosa sustained the noncontact injury late in the third quarter of the Celtics' loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday. An MRI performed Tuesday at New England Baptist Hospital confirmed the team's fear that Barbosa would miss the remainder of the season.
For Boston, this is the third season-ending injury in less than a three-week span. Rajon Rondo tore his right ACL on Jan. 25 in Atlanta and will soon undergo surgery to repair a partial tear. Rookie Jared Sullinger, in his second game after being elevated to the starting lineup, left in the first quarter of a game against Sacramento on Jan. 30 because of back spasms and underwent lumbar disk surgery the next day.
Boston expects both Rondo and Sullinger to be ready for training camp prior to next season. Barbosa is on a one-year deal and his future is less certain. He could be a buyout candidate if the Celtics need an additional roster spot moving forward this season.
The Celtics previously had two open roster spots and now have only 10 healthy players on their roster; one is rookie Fab Melo, who has been shuttling back and forth from the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has pledged to fill out the roster by month's end, but he has left the team the flexibility to navigate leading up to the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
Barbosa, whose minutes had spiked since Rondo was injured, went to the ground in pain after planting awkwardly after a drive to the baseline late in the third quarter Monday. Melo and team trainer Ed Lacerte carried Barbosa to the sideline and then to the locker room since he apparently was unable to put pressure on his injured leg. He left the arena under his own power, but he was limping.
Barbosa averaged eight points, 2.8 assists and 2.4 rebounds over 21.3 minutes per game in eight appearances since Rondo was injured. Barbosa really found his groove at the start of February, reaching double figures in scoring in three consecutive games while averaging 13.3 points and three assists and shooting 55 percent (16-of-29). Barbosa was a whopping plus-42 during that three-game stretch. He had cooled over his past three games (2.7 points on 17.6 percent shooting; minus-5), but good things happened more often than not when Barbosa was on the court.
The 30-year-old guard drew headlines last month when a report by ESPN Brazil suggested he desired to leave the Celtics due to his minimal role when Rondo was healthy and the team's depth at the guard spot. Barbosa denied the report but gushed last week about his increased opportunity lately.
"I got my chance now," he said. "And I'm very happy to be on the court and help my teammates."
Now his teammates must solider on without him. Boston simply needs healthy bodies to drive down rising minutes, but with only one game remaining before the All-Star break -- Wednesday's visit from the Chicago Bulls -- Ainge has some time to ponder how Boston will proceed.
The Celtics could reach to team-affiliated Maine of the D-League to add a guard with NBA experience, such as Shelvin Mack, who has played on three 10-day contracts this season with the Wizards and 76ers. That would allow the team to maintain some flexibility as the trade deadline approaches while still getting an extra, low-cost body on the roster.
Boston's depth has eroded so deeply because of injuries that it could be hard to facilitate a trade without leaving a void at another position.
The Celtics have leaned heavily on their veteran core, helmed by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, while trying to fight through the latest batch of adversity. Boston won a season-high seven straight after Rondo was lost for the season before falling Monday to the Bobcats on the second night of a back-to-back (this coming off a thrilling triple-overtime win against Denver).