There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks regarding the vaccination status of several Boston Celtics players. Given that a playoff series against the Toronto Raptors is possible, their possibly being unvaccinated would become more notable because Canada does not allow unvaccinated players to enter the country.
When the Celtics played the Raptors on March 28 in Canada, four key players — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Robert Williams — did not travel with the team. All four were listed as out for either rest or a nagging injury, but some questioned whether their absence had anything to do with their vaccination status. The Celtics lost 115-112 in overtime.
On the March 29 episode of TSN’s “OverDrive,” Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated said that he was under the impression that two of the four — Brown and Horford — were, indeed, unvaccinated.
“The variable in all this is, who can play in Toronto?,” Mannix said on the show. “Like, the Celtics have some unvaccinated guys. My understanding is Jaylen Brown is unvaccinated, Al Horford is unvaccinated. Now, that can still change. There’s still enough time left in the season where, if they decide to get the vaccine, they will be eligible to play in a postseason game in Toronto.”
He clarified his statement in a March 31 tweet, saying, “It wasn’t [reported]. I said neither has confirmed that they were vaccinated.”
As of April 8, and with one game left in the regular season, Boston holds the third seed in the Eastern Conference, meaning they would play the sixth-seeded Chicago Bulls. With two games left to play, the Philadelphia 76ers are a half-game behind the Celtics and in line to the play the fifth-seeded Raptors in the opening round of the playoffs. If the Sixers win their final two games and the Celtics lose their final game, Boston would play Toronto. In most scenarios that could play out over the final weekend of the regular season, the Celtics appear to be headed for the third seed.
Brown’s and Horford’s Previous Comments
Since the March 28 game in Toronto, both Brown and Horford have been asked about their status. When asked directly if the Toronto mandate would affect him, Horford gave reporters a brief answer that did little to quell the mystery of the situation:
“Yeah, you know, we’re clear on it,” Horford said. “And, you know, I’ll be able to be ready to play wherever.”
As for Brown, he stated at Celtics media day on September 27 that deciding to get vaccinated was a personal decision and declined to comment further. After Boston’s win over the Washington Wizards on April 3, Brown was asked again about his vaccination status with a potential series against Toronto on the horizon. This time around, he noted his duty as vice president of the National Basketball Players Association to protect player privacy, once again declining to comment on the matter:
“As a vice president of the player’s association, it’s a part of my job description to protect our players’ rights and our medical privacy,” Brown told reporters. “So you won’t hear me comment on my status or anybody else’s. But that’s how I feel about it.”
Brown said he’d be “ready to play against anybody” without directly answering the vaccination question.
Playoff Impact of Potential Celtics Absences
Brown and Horford played in Toronto earlier this season on November 28, but Canada has since changed its vaccine mandates. As of January 15, all athletes who enter the country are required to be fully vaccinated. If the Celtics were to match up with the Raptors and the players are, indeed, unvaccinated, Boston would be without three of their five starters for three games of the seven-game series. Williams is unlikely to return until the second round of the playoffs. The Celtics are 1-2 this season without both Brown and Horford, with one of those losses coming against the Raptors on March 28. (That is also the only game this season where Brown, Horford and Williams did not play.)
With Brown, Horford and Williams out, Tatum would be left to carry the load. But without Horford in the lineup, Tatum has gone 5-6 this season; without Brown, he’s gone 8-7; and without Williams, he’s gone 9-8. Tatum has not played a game this year where none of the three were on the court.
Boston’s starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Brown, Tatum, Horford and Williams has played 34 games together this year and has won 27 of those games. That means Boston is 23-31 this year when at least one member of the regular starting lineup is out. Losing one piece of the puzzle hurts. Missing multiple could be crushing in a playoff series.