Midway through the third quarter of the Celtics’ loss to the Nets on Friday, Evan Fournier caught a pass at the left arc as Brooklyn center DeAndre Jordan moved toward him. Jordan stayed slightly back on Fournier as the wing used a couple of quick jab steps to make him believe that anything was possible.
That was enough for Jordan to retreat ever so slightly, and it gave Fournier plenty of room to fire up a smooth, clean look that he has made so many times. Then the ball thudded off the far side of the rim, nowhere close to actually going through the hoop.
Fournier was 0 for 7 from the field in his return after sitting out nine games after contracting COVID-19. He missed two other wide-open 3-pointers, he missed after a few challenging drives, and he generally looked like he needed some more time off.
Afterward, he acknowledged as much. Fournier said that he probably should have waited a few more games before coming back. He still did not feel right. But he had played in only four games since being acquired from the Magic on March 25, and he knows this shortened regular season is quickly approaching its end. He knows he needs to become comfortable and familiar with these teammates before it is too late.
“I just got here,” Fournier said, “and I need reps to play with the guys and really understand the system offensively and defensively. So, I only had two days of practice, and for me the most important thing is just to be out there. It’s going to be hard, obviously, but I have to fight through it and push through it, because to me that’s the only way I’m going to feel better at some point.”
Fournier averaged 19.7 points over 26 games with Orlando this season, and at the start of this month showed glimpses of the offensive firepower he could provide off the bench for the Celtics. Over a two-game stretch he drilled 11 of 16 3-pointers, a long-range oasis for a second unit that had struggled to score.
Then on April 6, he tested positive for COVID-19. He said the first two days were manageable and that he did not experience any noticeable symptoms. But that changed suddenly.
“For four or five days I had flu-like symptoms: high fever, really tired, fatigue, headaches, all that,” Fournier said. “I just honestly stayed in bed and slept all day for four or five days.”
He tried to watch the Celtics play on television, but acknowledged that sometimes he could not even stay awake until the final buzzer. The symptoms gradually faded, but the virus had taken its toll. He said his workouts leading up to Friday’s game were a struggle.
“The roughest part was actually ramping up the activity,” he said. “Those last two days of practice were really, really hard. I had moments where I was doing good, and moments where I was exhausted. That’s what I mean by you have to push through it. You have to move through that to feel better.”
This is Fournier’s ninth NBA season, and most teams run some variations of the same offensive and defensive systems, so he said he is familiar enough with the Celtics’ scheme despite not being on the floor to execute it very often. These final 12 regular-season games will serve a different purpose, however.
“It’s more about getting used to playing with guys and knowing their tendencies and just being out there,” he said. “For me, that’s really important. So [Friday’s performance] is obviously not how I want to play, and you want to win every game you’re in, obviously. But I think it was really important for me to get that first game in and just get back out there. I’m going to be tired, but that’s positive, that’s good.”