Celtics

For Celtics, restart would quench long desire to see how good they can be

For Celtics, restart would quench long desire to see how good they can be

Before the Boston Celtics played their final game on March 10, Brad Stevens lamented how, "We haven’t been fully healthy very often. It almost always feels like we’ve had one of Kemba [Walker], Jayson [Tatum], Jaylen [Brown] or Gordon [Hayward] out.”

In fact, you would have had to rewind another month before that to find the last time the Celtics played with their top 7 players healthy.

What’s more, Boston had that top core rotation intact only eight times in the 64 games the team played before the coronavirus pandemic forced pro sports to shut down. One of the common refrains from the Celtics — both before the season paused, and in this awkward period since -- was a desire to find out how just good they could be when their top players are fully healthy.

Maybe they’ll actually get a chance to find out.

The NBA announced Saturday that it is in “exploratory conversations” with Disney about restarting the season in Orlando in late July. Even as momentum seemed to be growing about a potential resumption, the league’s acknowledgment made it seem just a bit more real.

There are undoubtedly plenty of hurdles to navigate — coronavirus testing, chief among them — before the NBA can truly position itself to resume games but it feels even safer to start thinking about that day now.

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The news definitely will energize Celtics players. Even with mix-and-match personnel due to injuries and illness, the Celtics still owned the fifth-best record in basketball before play paused. They had the fifth-best offensive rating, the fourth-best defensive rating, and fifth-best net rating. Boston had positioned itself for a top 3 spot in the Eastern Conference and showed that, when healthy, it could compete with any of the league’s elite.

After Enes Kanter hurt his leg on opening night, the Celtics didn’t have their top 7 healthy again until after Christmas (Dec. 28 vs. Raptors). A three-game stretch from Jan. 8-11 was the longest clip with its core healthy and Boston went just 1-2 in those games. Still, when Boston had its top 7 intact on Jan. 20 against the Lakers, it produced one of the team’s signature wins of the season.

We already ran down some of the biggest questions the Celtics will face if the season resumes. Sustained health is no guarantee, even if players will have had roughly three months to heal up before teams start to reconvene.

But the big fear the past two months is that these Celtics wouldn’t even get a chance to see how good they can be. That all the positive vibes and all the potential of the 2019-20 squad would be lost if the season was unable to resume.

It goes beyond the mere potential of the team. During a Zoom conference with Celtics reporters on Thursday, rookie Grant Williams noted the initial suspension of play stung Celtics players because, “especially with this group that we have, who enjoy each other, we enjoy being around each other, we were having so much fun during the year.” Players have openly craved simply getting back in the gym together because of how much they enjoyed each other’s company.

Players have made it clear that safety must be the first priority. If the league can ensure that and the season can resume, we can all embrace getting to see this team again. Before the season paused, the big question was whether the team had enough talent to truly make a push (with some lamenting the team’s lack of deadline and buyout activity).

All Celtics players ever wanted was a chance to answer that question, to see how good this roster could be at full strength. There will be some new variables in the equation given the unique circumstances of a restart but, as optimism about a restart grows, these 2019-20 Celtics might finally get their chance to determine their potential.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Celtics, Raptors burst Bucks' title hopes in NBA bubble?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Celtics, Raptors burst Bucks' title hopes in NBA bubble?

The Milwaukee Bucks will resume play with a league-best record of 53-12.

But just as we saw the Bucks burst onto the scene as one of the league’s better teams, how will they be impacted by the time off as the league’s restart begins this month?

Will their title hopes burst inside the bubble? One longtime NBA scribe certainly thinks so.

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“I think the two best teams in the East are Boston and Toronto,” veteran Toronto Raptors beat writer Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, said on the Celtics Talk Podcast on Thursday. “I like Milwaukee a lot, but they’ve never been there. And I think that’s a big, big concern. The Raptors' experience and their adaptability in games … I don’t think it gives them an edge, but it’s a big plus for them.”

The Celtics have been talked about often as one of the teams that can potentially upend the Bucks and get out of the East. 

To a lesser extent, the same can be said for the defending NBA champion Raptors, who have been able to successfully navigate through a season filled with injuries to key players to enter the bubble in Orlando with the NBA’s third-best record. 

But you wouldn’t know they were that good by the minimal talk surrounding them as potential repeat champions — which was fueled by the departure of last year's NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who now plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, and 3-and-D ace Danny Green, who now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. 

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Even with Leonard and Green moving on, Toronto has been a ruggedly tough team in the East. 

Pascal Siakam has emerged as an All-Star this season. Outside of maybe Boston’s Kemba Walker, there’s not a more underrated point guard in the NBA than Kyle Lowry. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol give Toronto the kind of veteran presence in the frontcourt that all title-contenders long to have on their roster. 

And let’s not forget about head coach Nick Nurse, who will surely get some serious love when the season is over when it comes to Coach of the Year voting. 

While a lot of attention has been paid to how impressive the Raptors have been for years at home, this season they posted an identical 23-9 record on the road as well as on their own home floor. 

Smith said home-court advantage would likely determine the winner of a Boston-Toronto playoff series. But with that being off the table now that all games will be played at a neutral site, Smith still envisions what would potentially be a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire series. 

“I think it’s a seven-game series if they played it in Boston, Toronto, Orlando or on Mars,” Smith said. “These teams are very evenly matched. They’re both very good. They can beat you in a lot of ways. That’s a big thing in the postseason.”

So what would decide the series?

“It comes down to the wings. The wings determine the series,” Smith said. “Can OG Anunoby contribute? Can Norm Powell contribute? How do Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum handle that kind of thing? I think that’s where the series is won or lost.”

Enes Kanter, Celtics offer inside look at NBA bubble meals, hotel rooms

Enes Kanter, Celtics offer inside look at NBA bubble meals, hotel rooms

The Boston Celtics have entered the bubble.

The Celtics flew to Orlando on Wednesday and reported to Walt Disney World's Gran Destino Tower, where they'll stay throughout the NBA's restarted 2019-20 season.

Other NBA teams arrived earlier than the Celtics, and some players complained about the underwhelming meals they received and some less-than-ideal living conditions.

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A few C's players had a different experience, however. Here's Celtics big man Enes Kanter showing off a solid Wednesday night dinner spread that included steak, sweet potatoes and greens:

Kanter also took a video of his breakfast Thursday morning, shouting out the NBA for giving him halal food in accordance with his observation of Islam.

Jayson Tatum, meanwhile, called in reinforcements, as his mother apparently came through to feed her 22-year-old son: 

As for their living arrangements, Kanter gave fans a tour of his living quarters at the Gran Destino:

Life in a single suite can get lonely, but the C's already are finding ways to connect and stay entertained. Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye hopped on Twitch on Wednesday night for a video game session, while big man Vincent Poirier shared his own gaming setup on Instagram.

The 22 teams in the NBA bubble have to adhere to strict safety protocols (sorry, no doubles ping pong) to limit the spread of COVID-19. But they're all playing by the same rules, so the teams that best adapt to their new environments may have the best chance of succeeding once games start later this month.

The Celtics will play three scrimmage games beginning July 24 before opening their "seeding round" schedule July 31 against the Milwaukee Bucks.