Forward Jayson Tatum on Friday night became the second member of the Celtics to test positive for COVID-19, and he was immediately placed in quarantine, according to an NBA source. He will be unable to rejoin the team for 10-14 days, robbing Boston of its top scorer.
The Celtics canceled Saturday’s practice shortly after Friday night’s win over the Wizards and closed their practice facility to any members of the organization because of COVID-19 restrictions. The Celtics are still scheduled to play the Miami Heat on Sunday night at TD Garden.
Tatum found out about his positive test late Friday night, according to the league source, after scoring 32 points in 35 minutes in the 116-107 win over Washington.
Tatum and center Robert Williams, who has also tested positive for COVID-19, will not be present for the game against the Heat, and neither will big men Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams, who were placed in quarantine because of close contact with Robert Williams.
According to the league source, Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, and Thompson recently rode in a car together, with Edwards the lone player wearing a mask. Edwards was cleared to play Friday against Washington because he was not considered a close contact. Grant Williams and Thompson, however, were considered risks.
It’s uncertain how Tatum contracted the virus, but according to the league’s research by medical experts, it’s nearly impossible to pass the virus during an NBA game because according to the Center for Disease Control’s website, transmission risk is with an “individual who has had close contact [within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more].”
According to NBA research, players are not in close contact with each other for remotely close to 15 minutes during a game.
Celtics players and other members of the organization were tested twice on Friday. According to the league source, Tatum tested negative in the first test but positive in his second. The team then canceled Saturday’s practice and informed members of the organization that the Auerbach Center would be shut down, preventing players from using the facility for treatment or workouts.
Tatum is eighth in the NBA in scoring (26.9 points per game) and with Jaylen Brown has helped the Celtics to a 7-3 start. If Tatum is in quarantine for the full 14 days, he would miss eight games, including a pair of matchups each against the 76ers and Magic. He would be cleared to return on Jan. 25 at Chicago.
The Celtics injury report released Saturday night lists Tatum as doubtful for Sunday’s game against Miami because of health and safety protocols. The team is likely waiting for confirmation of Tatum’s positive test. Forwards Brown and Semi Ojeleye and guard Javonte Green were listed as questionable because of health and safety protocols and will need to be cleared by medical officials to play.
Finally, Wizards forward Bradley Beal was held out of Washington’s game against the Miami Heat on Saturday night because of contact tracing to Tatum. The two are close friends and perhaps dined or visited each other prior to Friday’s game. The Wizards arrived in Boston on Thursday.
The NBA has had increasing COVID-19 problems since it decided to begin the 2020-21 season outside a controlled bubble. The 76ers were limited to eight players in Saturday’s loss to the Nuggets because of contact tracing and injuries. Guard Seth Curry tested positive for COVID-19 this past week.
In Houston, guard John Wall was held out for a week because of contact tracing after he invited teammates to his home for haircuts by a local barber. One of the Rockets who attended later tested positive for COVID-19.
In the NBA’s latest round of COVID-19 test results, released Jan. 7, there were four positives out of the 498 players tested since Dec. 30. The NBA does not release the names of players who test positive. Instead, the league places players in quarantine depending on a positive test or contact tracing.
During the bubble, no players tested positive for COVID-19. In that environment, players and team officials were tested daily, and family members were not allowed to visit until the first round of the playoffs, and they had to undergo daily testing once in the compound.
With Tatum out for at least 10 days, the Celtics will have to rely on players such as Green, who recently returned from a stint in quarantine, Ojeleye, and rookie Aaron Nesmith for minutes on the wing. The team is already without All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, who was cleared to begin practicing after missing the first few weeks following a knee procedure, Robert Williams, Grant Williams, and Thompson for at least the next few games.
The Celtics already have the maximum 17 players on their roster, so they would have to waive a player to create a spot. If they don’t, the lone option is to play with the roster they have. The NBA mandated the 76ers play the Nuggets despite having five players in COVID-19 protocols, and two more listed as injured. Philadelphia used seven of its eight players in the 115-103 loss, with rookie Tyrese Maxey scoring 39 points in 44 minutes. He had been averaging 15.7 minutes per game.
Tatum, meanwhile, will not be allowed to practice with the Celtics during the quarantine period, and will have to test negative on multiple occasions before returning.