The Celtics returned home Monday night to face the Pelicans at TD Garden, in front of fans for the first time this season, knowing this is the squad they hope will make a playoff run.
Their attempt to acquire Andre Drummond was unsuccessful when he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, leaving the Celtics to ponder whether to keep recently acquired Luke Kornet, who hit two key 3-pointers in Saturday’s win over Oklahoma City, or pursue another potential free agent on the buyout market.
Good luck has escaped the Celtics this season, especially with injuries and COVID-19 protocol, but they were able to get new addition Evan Fournier in uniform for Monday after he revealed he tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday. (Yeah, it’s been that kind of season).
Fournier tested negative three additional times Saturday, again Sunday and Monday, and was cleared to make his Boston debut vs. the Pelicans. The Celtics were still short of whole, but Fournier’s presence came as a definite boost to a team looking for a quality veteran to relieve the scoring pressure on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Fournier came off the bench Monday, and it could take a few games to develop a role. In Orlando, he started all but 36 of his 435 games and it will be up to Brad Stevens to decide whether to include Fournier in that starting group in place of Marcus Smart.
With Brown out with a hip contusion, Stevens opted for Grant Williams to start with Smart, Kemba Walker, Tatum and Robert Williams III. Fournier made his debut at the 6:38 mark and missed an open 3-pointer a few moments later.
There is definitely a different vibe to the club, with the additions of Moe Wagner and Kornet and the departures of Daniel Theis, Javonte Green and Jeff Teague, who signed with the rival Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Fournier has been in Boston since Saturday when he received his physical (and tested positive for COVID-19), but he appeared prepared for the inevitable during his final days in Orlando, where the Magicwere amid the breakup of a roster built to compete in the Eastern Conference.
But the best the Magic could do in the playoffs was a pair of first-round eliminations. And the trio of Fourner, Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon were on the block before the deadline, all three getting traded on deadline day.
“I was just focused on winning games for the Magic,” he said. “I was just trying to play at a very high level, just trying to block out all the noise. I had some good games. I think it showed that I was able to focus on basketball and not rumors.”
The rumors grew more prevalent as last Thursday approached. And Orlando general manager Jeff Weltman said that there was little reason to keep Fournier if he traded Vucevic and Gordon. The Celtics invested more than half of their $28.5 million trade exception to get the sharpshooter.
“You can’t waste energy or spend energy on things you can’t control,” Fournier said. “As long as I was a Magic player, I was going to focus on that. Once I heard about the trade, I was really excited. It’s a bit of a shock because you never know whether these things are going to happen or not.
“Obviously, there were rumors but when you spent seven years in one place, it’s a little bit shocking at first. But when it settles in, you can reflect on your situation and, I like I said, it’s a good opportunity for me.”
The crowd cheered Fournier vigorously in the opening period and he had his chances to impress the crowd. He missed two open 3-pointers as well as a driving layup, and then back-rimmed a 50-footer at the buzzer to end the quarter.
The Celtics are hoping Fournier can blend into Stevens’ offense seamlessly with his versatility.
“The best thing about my game is I’m able to do a lot of things,” he said. “I can handle. I can pass. You can bring me off screens and pin-downs. It’s really going to be about how can I fit with other guys.
“I’m obviously learning the system and I’m going to try to be myself and try to adapt to why guys are going on the floor. My focus is to learn the plays and how to play with my teammates.”
It will take a few games for Fournier to get comfortable but he fills a need the Celtics have had since Gordon Hayward departed.
“We had an obviously need for another wing that can do what he does and we’re fortunate that he’s with us and on our team,” Stevens said. “He’s got [to go through] a crash course, but he’s a veteran, been there, done that. He’s played against us tons of times and he probably knows our plays as well as anybody. Certainly we just want him to play to his strengths and not worried about anything else.”