Jrue Holiday’s made quite the impression through one season with the Boston Celtics, giving the organization exactly what it envisioned when acquiring the 33-year-old in the offseason: a defensive leader to fill Marcus Smart’s void.

While that’s an easier said than done task to inherit in debuting with a new team that also has weighing championship expectations on its shoulders, Holiday’s flourished. Alongside Derrick White in the backcourt, Holiday has co-starred a deadly defensive tandem, averaging 5.4 rebounds to lead all points guards in the Eastern Conference, plus 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks.

But while the Celtics have also clicked collectively, winning nine straight to extend their Eastern Conference No. 1 seed over the Milwaukee Bucks to 11 1/2 games, Holiday has been in recovery mode. He suffered a right shoulder sprain against the Washington Wizards amid Boston’s winning streak after getting nailed by a screen from 6-foot-9, 235-pound Richaun Holmes, prompting speculation about the severity of Holiday’s injury.

The Celtics have held the fort down through Holiday’s absence, going 4-0 while averaging 123.5 points — the most of any team in the East. However, even with a commanding lead over all other conference foes, Holiday doesn’t want to get too accustomed to watching from the sidelines.

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“I still want to play,” Holiday said, per Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. “That’s part of the reason I play basketball. But it’s also keeping rhythm. Sometimes you’re out for a long time you break rhythm, but I feel like I’ve been in a good groove and I want to continue to play.”

Sitting high and mighty with a league-best 57-14 record, Boston has just 11 regular-season games left to play before its time for the Celtics to fight for playoff survival. That obviously tightens Holiday’s window for a return date, but then again there’s no team in the NBA better positioned to sustain the absence of someone of Holiday’s caliber than the Celtics.

Boston hasn’t lost a game when missing two or more of its starters this season. Whether its Kristaps Porzingis, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown or any combination of multiple starting lineups, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla has routinely relied on the supporting cast and plugged in reserve unit role players to keep the train running smoothly.

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Meanwhile, Holiday has been doing his part, getting some on-court practice in before Saturday night’s Celtics-Bulls matchup in Chicago.

“He’s in good shape,” Mazzulla shared, per Himmelsbach. “He’s doing well. He’s getting better.”

The timetable remains unclear, however, it’s widely known that having Holiday healthy and fresh by the time the playoffs commence is critical for Boston in the coming weeks. Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens delivered Holiday for a not-so-cheap price of Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams. And while Boston’s been the runaway winner of that swap thus far, Stevens didn’t acquire Holiday for a No. 1 seed or an NBA-best regular-season record. Going full throttle in the offseason has all been to get back to the NBA Finals and finish the job this go-around.

Judging from appearances in Holiday’s brief pregame routine in Chicago, the discomfort that left him shaken in Washington appears to have faded away significantly. At that point, Holiday’s reliability in a Celtics uniform was well-established, appearing in 61 of Boston’s first 67 games played.

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If 61 starts logged were the end of Holiday’s regular-season campaign, it wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario for either Holiday or the Celtics as both parties prepare for the NBA playoffs, which will kick off in April.

Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images