The Celtics and the NBA were enjoyable all season and now we're left with nothing

The Celtics and the NBA were enjoyable all season and now we're left with nothing

The calendar notification hit like a stomach punch.

Celtics at Bucks. Today at 8 p.m.

There was no Celtics game on Thursday night, of course, and there won’t be for at least another month.

That meant no familiar Twitter antics. No digs about the Boston bench and debates about the merit of Brad Wanamaker. No outrage at Gordon Hayward’s unselfishness or Marcus Smart’s shot selection. No concerns about the state of Kemba Walker’s sore knee. No jokes about Jayson Tatum still being 19 years old. No Daniel Theis seal memes flopping all over social media.

And, man, did we miss all of it.

An 82-game schedule can seem like a grind when you’re in the thick of it. Thursday was a reminder of just how much we take it for granted.

NBC Sports Boston colleague Ryan LaMarca and I spent Wednesday in Brownsburg, Indiana gathering content for our planned Gordon Hayward Day. Energized by a series of interviews with coaches, teammates, and friends from Hayward’s past, we raced to the airport to catch evening flights. The looming Celtics-Bucks matchup was all the motivation needed to grind through the connecting flight through Chicago that awaited.

But right after they closed the boarding door in Chicago, and before we even pushed back at O’Hare, the email arrived announcing the NBA had suspended its 2019-20 season. The rest of the major sports leagues followed suit over the next 24 hours. Now, we are staring at the prospects of a month with little more than NFL free agency to satiate our sports thirst.

Make no mistake, the NBA absolutely made the right decision to pause after Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. But, particularly in these uncertain times, as we all try to comprehend and combat this frightening pandemic, it only accentuates the absence of sports and the much-needed diversion they provide.

Now it seems somewhat trivial how much time we’ve spent analyzing whether Boston should have made a move to shore up its bench. The health of Boston’s top rotation players doesn’t seem nearly as important as the well-being of those currently affected by the coronavirus.

Instead of that showdown with the Bucks, the Celtics caught a late morning flight back to Boston on Thursday. A couple of players were photographed disembarking the plane with makeshift masks over their faces, an abundance of caution displayed given two recent matchups against the Jazz.

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The Celtics released a statement Wednesday afternoon noting that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health determined that none of the team's players likely came in contact with the two affected Jazz players while they were contagious. Still, the team asked players to quarantine this weekend. Players and personnel will be tested for the coronavirus during that stretch as well.

Unfortunately, what comes next is uncertain. Commissioner Adam Silver admitted as much during an appearance on TNT’s game-less pregame show. There is hope that the league can explore a return to action in a month; the 2019-20 season could also not see another game played. It’s much too early to know how it will all play out.

It’s too bad because these Celtics have been a lot of fun to watch. They were an ideal palette-cleanser to what we slogged through last year, even as some old habits seeped back in during a rare recent rough patch. A handful of blown double-digit leads doesn’t seem so catastrophic now. But that those lapses provoke such emotion from fans only speaks to how important these games and these teams are to us. It’s what makes sports so great.

The whole “don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” certainly applies here. Let’s hope the elimination of large gatherings can help contain this contagion and bring sports back quicker than they may have otherwise.

Until then, though, we're going to silence these NBA calendar alerts.

Celtics star Jayson Tatum could be 'the guy' in the NBA, says ex-teammate

Celtics star Jayson Tatum could be 'the guy' in the NBA, says ex-teammate

Jayson Tatum is making the leap to the upper echelon of NBA stars during his third season with the Boston Celtics.

The 22-year-old forward made his first NBA All-Star Game appearance, he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February and he has established himself as the team's best player.

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One of Tatum's teammates during his rookie season was Shane Larkin, who spent this past season excelling for Turkish team Anadolu Efes in the EuroLeague. Larkin knew early on the special kind of talent Tatum possessed, and he preached a message of patience to Boston's young star.

"It's unreal," Larkin said on the latest Celtics Talk Podcast. "I talk to JT all the time, and it's funny, I just saw him do that podcast, 'All the Smoke', and he was talking about that stuff with Phoenix, when he went out there, and he was like, 'Phoenix is where I want to be.' I remember having conversations with him his rookie year and I was like, 'Bro, just be patient.' He was so talented, he wanted to get out there and immediately be who he wanted to be, and I'm like, 'You're 19 years old, bro, just be patient, relax, you're time is going to come and you're going to be one of the top guys in this league.' I've been saying that for years, and now you see what he's been doing. Sometimes it takes guys a year or two years to finally get that opportunity to be who they're going to be. This year was his time, and he took it and ran with it. Now, he's well on his way to being one of the best players in this league, for sure."

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If the 2019-20 regular season does not continue, Tatum will have averaged career highs with 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, while also shooting 44.8 percent from the floor and 39.8 percent on 3-point shots.

How high is ceiling's Tatum, according to Larkin? Could he actually become the best player in the league?

"I don't see any reason why he can't be 'the guy' in the league. He has every single ability that he needs to have -- he has the size, he has the length, he has the IQ," Larkin said. "He can defend, he competes. He's so young, and he has so much potential that there's no reason why he can't be, and he shouldn't settle for anything less. 

"The great thing about JT is I think he has that mentality. I think you saw that his rookie year. He came in with that mentality -- he was patient, he didn't force it. He was very efficient as a rookie. He gained more responsibility and took it in stride. He's just met every single challenge head on, and he's been doing great. I'm happy for him."

The Celtics will be in the playoffs if the current season resumes, and even though Boston has a deep and very talented roster, the team's postseason run likely would only go as far as Tatum takes it.

Shane Larkin's lone season with Celtics "huge step" toward EuroLeague superstardom

Shane Larkin's lone season with Celtics "huge step" toward EuroLeague superstardom

BOSTON -- While Shane Larkin appeared in 54 games (two starts) with the Boston Celtics, playing time wasn’t nearly as plentiful as he would have wanted. 

But like most of the players who have come through town since head coach Brad Stevens’ arrival in 2013, Larkin left on good terms. 

And some of the lessons learned during his time in Boston, Larkin credits for being instrumental in his growth and development into arguably the best player in EuroLeague play this past season. 

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“Overall, I became a much better basketball player, playing in Boston,” Larkin said on the Celtics Talk Podcast. “Just the way I saw the game, the way I read the game.”

While playing with Turkey’s Anadolu Efes, Larkin led the team to a EuroLeague-best record while averaging 22.2 points on 53.0 percent shooting from the field, 50.9 percent shooting on 3’s, along with making 90.3 percent of his free throws. 

As a Celtic, Larkin acknowledged having a familiar face also helped his acclimation process. 

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Larkin had an established relationship with Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga, whose father Jim Larranaga was Larkin’s head coach at the University of Miami. 

In Boston, Jay Larranaga was the Celtics’ assistant coach who Larkin spent the most time working with on his shooting and various ball-handling skills. 

On those nights when Larkin would not get into games or play limited minutes, he was back in the gym the following day with Larranaga, focused on improving his all-around game to best ensure when his opportunity to play arrived that he would indeed be ready. 

“That year, on the court and off the court, mentally, physically, I just took a huge step in my development as a man, as a player,” Larkin said. “And it has really helped me get to where I am today.

Larkin added, “Boston has a great thing, a great setup right now. And if you’re lucky enough to be a Celtic at this current time, you’re definitely going to come out of there in much better shape than you went in.”