Well, this quickly devolved into a mess. What was supposed to be a fascinating rematch between the Eastern Conference finalists Boston Celtics and Miami Heat on Sunday quickly became a COVID-19 battle of attrition that the NBA decided to postpone all together.
The decision came after a Heat player returned an inconclusive test and, with contact tracing, Miami was not able to field a team of eight players. That came after it was revealed that Heat guard Avery Bradley would be out because of COVID-19-related health and safety protocols.
When the evening began, the Celtics prepared for the matchup at TD Garden against the Miami Heat with an injury list that had more players on it than the active roster. The Celtics had their two two-way players in uniform on Sunday, giving the team (barely) the necessary eight players to legally play an NBA game.
Seven of those players are out either with COVID-19 or because of the health and safety protocols related to the virus. Two others (Romeo Langford, wrist surgery; Kemba Walker, knee) have been out since the beginning of the season.
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Two of the players are Boston’s biggest stars—Jayson Tatum, who reportedly has tested positive for the virus, and Jaylen Brown. Celtics center Robert Williams has also tested positive. Grant Williams, Semi Ojeleye and Tristan Thompson are also out, and will need to be out for at least seven days (beginning Friday).
“The NBA goes through an incredibly detailed program whenever there’re any concerns at all,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “They basically relive the last few days of your time all together, and I know they do that with every team. It’s a long, arduous task for our people who are in charge of our protocols, and following all the protocols and all the people at the league.”
Miami Heat Opponents Ravaged by COVID-19
For the Heat, this would have beenthe second of four consecutive games in which his team will face a group badly affected by COVID-19. On Saturday, Miami played Washington, and the Wizards had to pull Bradley Beal off the floor just before game time when contact tracing brought him close to Tatum, a longtime friend, during Washington’s game in Boston on Friday night.
Now, the Celtics are entering a game even more ransacked by COVID-19. The Heat’s next two games were to have come against Philadelphia, which had to play a game on Saturday with only eight players available—though one, Mike Scott, was not healthy and could not play despite being in uniform. The Sixers started three rookies in the game.
As for Bradley, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that he will “miss more time” because of the protocols than just Sunday’s game. Bradley could be out for about 10 days, much like his former Lakers teammate, Alex Caruso, did when he was out for health and safety protocols. Bradley could well be out for the Heat’s next five games, which would have him back on January 20, against the Raptors in Tampa.
Celtics-Heat: Not the Rematch We Hoped to See
The number of games Bradley misses, of course, depends on what the NBA learns about the exposure his teammates have had to the virus. It remains unknown when the Heat will be able to take the court again.
The Heat, who beat the Celtics in the East finals last postseason as it, have had a rocky start to this year. The win over Washington pulled Miami to 4-4 on the year.
Coach Erik Spoelstra said one of the challenges going forward is to keep his team focused even as it plays shorthanded foes, and that he respects the fact that his players have been able to stay engaged despite all that is going on around them (from the South Florida Sun Sentinel):
I just marvel at our guys in how much they’ve been able to emotionally compartmentalize all of the discouragement, frustration and feeling of how things are unjust racially, dealing with everything we’re dealing with COVID. Not just the protocols, but the unknown. Just how different things are. And then be asked to perform and do it at a high level.
These are unique times right now. They’re not easy for anybody in this profession. We’re not happy about where we are as a team, but I think it’s important emotionally, mentally and spiritually that we show each other some grace, understanding and empathy right now.