The Celtics received a boost Wednesday night when Josh Richardson returned to face the Clippers after missing four games because of COVID-19 protocols.
It’s been an odd few weeks for Richardson, who was placed in protocols twice this month. He tested positive for the virus prior to the Dec. 10 game against the Suns. When the Celtics returned home afterward, Richardson stayed behind for four days in an Airbnb that the team rented for him. He said he mostly played video games and watched game film.
He returned for two games and erupted for a season-high 27 points in the Dec. 18 win against the Knicks, but then he tested positive again and had been sidelined since. Richardson played 32 minutes in Wednesday night’s loss and had 6 points, 3 assists, and 3 steals.
“It was tough because of how well he played in New York and then losing him when we lose some other guys, as well,” coach Ime Udoka said. “And so we had to rely on some younger, less-seasoned guys. But it is what it is and I think he showed that he could come back and play well against New York, and we’re going to need that with the guys we have missing now.”
Jayson Tatum, Enes Kanter Freedom, Aaron Nesmith, Dennis Schröder, and Bruno Fernando remained out because of COVID protocols. Also, Marcus Smart missed his second game in a row because of a hand laceration he suffered in the loss to the Bucks on Christmas Day. Udoka said Smart tried wearing padding but it didn’t provide enough protection.
“The laceration is still there and painful, doesn’t have a lot of grip or touch,” Udoka said. “So, should be back soon, tried it out a few times doing some different things and you don’t want to risk getting worse if he reaches for a steal or something like that.”
Grant Williams entered Wednesday making 55.1 percent of his corner 3-pointers, best in the NBA among players who have attempted at least 40.
“He understands what’s needed,” Udoka said. “Simple role for him, which is defending, and that’s the spot he’s in a lot. And it takes ball movement to get it to that corner, so something we’ve done well, especially earlier in the year. But he understands and keeps it very simple. If I have the shot I take it, if not I move it, and doesn’t try to do too much. Doesn’t put himself in bad positions.”
Williams has connected on a career-high 46 percent of his 3-pointers overall, and was 2 for 3 against the Clippers, with his teammates combining to go 2 for 39.
With Smart, Schröder, and Richardson out against the Timberwolves on Monday, second-year guard Payton Pritchard played a career-high 44 minutes, 32 seconds. He performed well, registering 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, but Udoka acknowledged that Pritchard’s playing time was probably a bit too high.
“Obviously, there are two other point guards, but he was scoring the ball well that game,” Udoka said. “Don’t love the 44-minute deal. Payton is one guy that we feel could shoulder that and prepares for that out of anybody. And so it went that way, but that’s obviously higher number than we’d like.”
Pritchard played 34 minutes against the Clippers.