INDIANAPOLIS — Before his team’s morning shootaround Tuesday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens walked into an interview room, took a step up to a podium, and sat down before scanning the collection of reporters in front of him.
“This is kind of weird,” he said, hours before his team blew a 19-point lead, but still beat the host Pacers, 114-111, to end a two-game skid.
Typically, morning shootaround media availabilities are incredibly informal, with players chatting with individual reporters in courtside seats before Stevens stands on the court and takes his turn. But as the NBA searches for ways to protect its players from the coronavirus, it has begun making minor changes to their day-to-day lives on the job.
Team locker rooms are closed to all media, and most interview sessions will take place in press conference-style group settings, with players expected to stay at least 6 feet away from media members.
“I guess it’s just getting real serious,” Celtics point guard Kemba Walker said. “I don’t know. It’s crazy. I don’t know what to say about it, to tell you the truth.”
Limiting players’ exposure to media and other nonessential game-day personnel is just a limited shift, of course. For now, the games go on. But around the NBA, there is growing angst about what the next steps might be depending on how the situation unfolds, including the possibility of playing games without fans, or perhaps postponing games altogether.
“Nobody wants to play without fans,” Stevens said. “That would be really too bad, but totally understand if those decisions are made. They’re made by people that are much more qualified than us to make them.
"Other than that, that would be my No. 1 concern after the fact, that this thing is built on fans. This thing is built on people liking it, and the reason why we’re all where we are and get a chance to do this for a living, and make a good living, is because people are interested in it.
"It’s counterintuitive not to have people in the stands. But again, they’ll have to make the decision on what’s in the best interest for everybody’s health.”
At the very least, the league has advised players to limit interactions with fans; Walker said he hopes they understand why players might be pulling back a bit in the coming weeks.
“Not trying to be disrespectful, but at the end of the day, we have to look out for our well-being,” he said. “Autographs and pictures at this moment is probably going to be tough.
"I think everybody’s a little nervous about it. A lot of us are probably going to stay away from it as much as we can.”
As the virus spreads through the US, it has not been directly connected to a major professional sports league yet. On Tuesday morning, the Celtics mostly said that little has changed for them since they were briefed about safety protocols earlier this month.
They are paying attention to their hygiene and their interactions with others, but their daily schedules have hardly been altered. They seem cautious and aware, but hardly terrified.
"I’m just kind of going through my routine day by day,” guard Marcus Smart said, “just doing everything I can to stay on track with making sure my immune system is well, my whole body’s well, just keeping myself and everybody safe around me.”
Added Walker, “Obviously, I don’t want to catch it. None of us do. So I think we’re all being more cautious of our surroundings.”
Brown close to court return
Jaylen Brown remained sidelined with a strained hamstring, but there is a chance he could play against the Bucks on Thursday.
“He’s close enough that he is in the progression to play,” Stevens said. “But it also could be that deal where he needs Thursday to do one more set of things.”
Stevens said that Brown did some stop-and-start running at the team’s morning shootaround and that he was moving a bit better than he was a couple days ago.