INDIANAPOLIS — The Celtics began their first of the NBA’s two-game series Sunday designed to reduce travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Boston spends three full days in Indianapolis before spending another three in Detroit beginning New Years’ Eve.
Such a rare opportunity to spend extended time in one city — not during the playoffs — would have allowed players such as Jeff Teague and Romeo Langford and coach Brad Stevens to spend quality time with family and friends in their hometown. COVID-19 restrictions have prevented most of that, however, and most Celtics are relegated to staying in their hotel when they are not at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“These are pretty quiet times,” Stevens said. “I haven’t left the hotel since I’ve been here. And obviously no one from our side can travel unless they’re part of our tested group every single day. All of that are parts of the new unique experiences of being on the road.”
Teague said he was able to spend the day after Christmas with his family after all of them tested for negative for COVID-19.
“This whole season has been weird,” he said. “It’s had its challenges and curveballs. I leave (the hotel) and then I go home, so it’s a different experience for me. It’s different for me because I’m from here. I enjoy being here this long.”
Stevens said the two-game series should be something the league considers beyond the pandemic. In January, the Celtics host the Orlando Magic for two straight games and travel to Philadelphia for two. In February, they host Atlanta for a pair.
“It makes sense from a travel perspective, a health perspective,” Stevens said. “It’s not just about the COVID health part; it’s also about the sleep and the opportunity to not overdo it. They’re playing all the time and if we could lessen the miles of all these teams are traveling, I think that’s really important. So I like the idea of a series.”
No free throws for Tatum
Jayson Tatum has yet to attempt a free throw this season despite playing 69 minutes and attempting 50 shots through the first two games. Meanwhile reserve forward Semi Ojeleye has attempted seven, including six in the Christmas Day loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
The Celtics are hoping to find a way for Tatum to score easier points, and drawing shooting fouls would help boost what has been an inconsistent offense at times.
“No. 1 is, you’re always looking to take what the defense gives you,” Stevens said. “They are very dialed into him. He’s done a good job attacking the rim I thought against Brooklyn. He could finish better at the rim. He’s gonna be such a focal point I think we’ve talked about trying to get a few easier baskets. Any time you can get to the line it’s a good thing for us because he makes them. But his lack of getting to the line has a lot more to do with our spacing and our execution that it has with his game.”
Free throw attempts aren’t only a Tatum problem. The Celtics entered Sunday’s game ranked 29th in the league in free throw attempts (15). Atlanta leads the NBA with 33.5 attempts per game.
Tristan Thompson was again in the starting lineup on a minutes restriction because of a strained left hamstring. He has been limited to 20-plus minutes in the first two games and the Celtics have not revealed when the restriction would be lifted.
“Of course I’d like to be on the floor with my teammates more but I’ve got to trust the training staff,” he said. “As games go on, hopefully they’ll take that restriction [off] , so I can go out and be myself.”
Thompson is a plus defender but assigning him to Kevin Durant on Friday could be perceived as an impossible task. Thompson said he relished the matchup. Durant finished with 29 points.
“I’ve guarded LeBron (James), KD (Durant), Steph (Curry), Kawhi (Leonard), he said. “I’ll take that challenge every night, I trust myself. It’s totally up to the training staff. I’d love to play 30 minutes right now and go full speed and go full blast.”
Walker on the floor
Kemba Walker traveled with the Celtics and went through a pre-game workout that consisted of shooting 3-pointers and free throws. According to Stevens, Walker has not done anything beyond individual work but Walker did look comfortable and nimble on his left knee, which received a stem cell injection in October. The Celtics initially said Walker would return in January but the club is expected to be cautious with his recovery and it could be several weeks before he returns to action.