Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum is likely to return for Monday’s game in Chicago after missing five games because of COVID-19 protocols, coach Brad Stevens said Sunday.
Tatum has been sidelined since testing positive for the coronavirus Jan. 9. He completed a mandatory cardiac test last week and was cleared to resume basketball activities, but the Celtics have erred on the side of caution in order to allow Tatum to ramp up his conditioning after being sidelined.
“[Tatum] worked out each of the last couple days, worked out really hard [Saturday], actually got some up and down in with guys that didn’t play [Friday], and coaches,” Stevens said. “I anticipate he’ll play [Monday].”
The Celtics walloped the Magic in their first game without Tatum but then lost their next three games heading into Sunday night’s matchup against the Cavaliers at TD Garden.
Rookie wing Aaron Nesmith, who missed Friday’s game against the 76ers because of back spasms, was cleared to return Sunday.
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Rookie guard Payton Pritchard suffered a Grade 1 MCL sprain against Philadelphia and is expected to resume basketball activities in about two weeks. Pritchard has been a key cog for Boston’s struggling bench corps and his absence will be noticeable, but there was still some relief about the diagnosis.
When Jaylen Brown inadvertently fell onto Pritchard’s knee and he had to be helped off the court by two medical staffers, it looked as if the damage could have been more severe.
“His diagnosis not being as bad as it potentially could be, I’m happy for him,” Celtics center Tristan Thompson said. “Especially as a rookie, the last thing you want to do is go through a devastating season-ending injury, especially with how hard that kid’s been working. Until then, I know he’ll be watching on the side and getting his ballhandling in, and we just kind of go from there.”
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Thompson spent his first nine NBA seasons with the Cavaliers before signing with the Celtics during the offseason. On Sunday, he faced his former team for the first time.
When he was asked about his decision to leave Cleveland, he said that was a better question for his agent, Rich Paul, and Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman. But he certainly has no sour grapes about his time with the Cavaliers.
“I felt like I had some amazing years there and did something that not many Cavaliers have ever done, put up that [championship] banner,” he said. “So, at the end of the day, Cleveland’s always going to be a part of my journey. People of Cleveland watched me go from a young teenager coming out of Texas to becoming a father, so I always feel like I have some 216 [area code] in my DNA.”
Thompson has struggled a bit during his start with the Celtics. He entered Sunday averaging 6.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game on 47.8 percent shooting, his lowest mark since 2013-14, and the Celtics have been outscored by 5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court.
“Not having training camp and the [hamstring] injury definitely kind of set me back,” Thompson said. “I feel like now I’m just starting to get my legs a little bit. So, of course it’s tough because coming back from injury, minute restriction, and all that jazz, is definitely frustrating, but it’s a long season and this team is built for the long run.”