The Celtics’ game against the Magic scheduled for Wednesday at TD Garden was postponed because COVID-19 protocols left Boston without eight eligible players. It’s the third consecutive game the Celtics have had pushed back.
The Celtics and Magic were scheduled to have a two-game series in Boston. The status of Friday’s game remains unclear.
This past Sunday, the matchup against the Heat was postponed because COVID-19 contact tracing kept Miami from having eight players, and then the Celtics’ COVID-19 issues led to Tuesday’s game against the Bulls being called off.
Robert Williams and Jayson Tatum both tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week, and Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye, Grant Williams, Tristan Thompson, and Javonte Green are all being held out because of contact tracing. Also, Kemba Walker and Romeo Langford remain sidelined with injuries. At least one more player has been ruled out, but the Celtics have not released a full injury report in several days.
Here are some thoughts about what this shutdown means for the Celtics, and other NBA musings:
▪ It remains to be seen whether the Celtics will play Friday. And if they do, it’s unclear how many players will be available. But it certainly seems that younger players such as Aaron Nesmith could be in line for an opportunity in the short term.
Nesmith, the 14th overall pick of November’s draft, has appeared overwhelmed in his brief stints this season, and it can be tough for a young player to build confidence when he knows a mistake or two could lead him back to the bench.
He’ll get chances as the season progresses, but a few longer, low-pressure runs now could benefit him in the long term.
▪ Privately, the Celtics had been targeting Friday’s game for Walker to make his season debut. The All-Star point guard has been sidelined as he rebuilds strength in his left knee and was cleared to return to practice last week.
But the team’s training facility has been shuttered under COVID-19 protocols, so the Celtics have not had a full practice since Walker was given the green light. That probably will delay his comeback.
On the other hand, the Celtics have had three games postponed that will be played at some point in the spring, games that Walker would have missed this week. Now, he’s getting extra time to rev up, and that could help.
▪ The NBA released a new set of safety protocols Tuesday in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19 among players. Some of the measures should have been in place from the start.
For example, on the road players are no longer allowed to leave their hotels except to take part in team activities or for emergencies, and they cannot interact with non-team guests at the hotel.
Some of the requirements seem a bit much, like requiring players — who are tested for COVID-19 daily and have constant physical contact on the court — to use fist and elbow bumps when interacting.
▪ Tatum and Brown have both been given expanded roles with Walker out and Gordon Hayward now with the Hornets, and they have been excellent. But Hayward’s hot start with Charlotte has provided a reminder of how impactful he can be when healthy. He is averaging 22.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.0 assists while shooting 50.3 percent from the field.
▪ It was somewhat lost during this frenetic stretch, but the Celtics’ affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, announced that they are opting out of the G League bubble in Orlando next month. The Red Claws are one of 11 teams not taking part, and they will not have a season this year.
This is unfortunate for potential affiliate players trying to nudge into the NBA, but it does not really affect the Celtics’ two-way contract players, Tacko Fall and Tremont Waters. With active rosters expanded from 13 to 15 this year, and with two-way contract players now eligible to play 50 NBA games rather than being limited to 45 total days, Fall and Waters were unlikely to leave the Celtics anyway.
▪ Raise your hand if you had rookie guard Payton Pritchard being fourth on the Celtics in scoring, assists, and steals through 10 games.
▪ The Celtics could gradually be moving toward their own version of herd immunity, as three of their top nine rotation players have now tested positive for COVID-19. Marcus Smart was diagnosed last spring, while Tatum and Robert Williams tested positive over the last 10 days. None of the three is believed to have experienced any significant symptoms.