Celtics Insider

Forsberg: How the Celtics will attempt to cope with Tatum's absence

Celtics Insider

A handful of thoughts after The Athletic reported that Jayson Tatum will miss the next 10-14 days due to health and safety protocol related to COVID-19: 

NO FILLING THE TATUM VOID

The bottom line is that the Celtics will be without their best player for at least the next five games and, barring more injuries or additions to the health and safety list, would be at just 11 available bodies for the next three games.

The Celtics own a net rating of plus-6.2 in the 346 minutes that Tatum has been on the floor this season and that plummets to a team-worst 8.8 in the 134 minutes he’s been on the bench. Some of Boston’s best minutes this season have come with reserve groups on the floor but those five-man units often have featured Tatum as a centerpiece.

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

SUPER SMALL BALL

With Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Tristan Thompson, and Tatum all now in protocol, the Celtics have only two healthy players taller than 6-foot-6 in Daniel Theis and Tacko Fall.

Boston made it work during Friday’s win over the Wizards but Theis’ early foul trouble put the Celtics in a tough spot and the team was fortunate that Fall was able to turn in 19 solid minutes. Can he sustain that level of play?

Time for more Tacko? C's big man impresses vs. Wizards

The Celtics can go super small with 6-foot-6 Semi Ojeleye at the 5 but more than half of their available bodies are 6-foot-4 and under. Coach Brad Stevens is going to have to get really creative until reinforcements arrive from quarantine.

 

WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?

Jaylen Brown will be thrust even further into the spotlight now and the Celtics will direct much of their offense through him.

Brown has been spectacular this season, particularly with his shooting from the mid-range and beyond. He’s going to see a lot of extra attention without Tatum on the floor and Boston really needs its supporting cast to elevate its play even further.

Brown has embraced the challenge each time the team has heaped more on his plate. He’ll essentially get a chance here to show what he can do as the focal point of a team.

THE SCHEDULE IS SOMEWHAT FORGIVING

Boston’s next three opponents are Miami, Chicago, and Orlando. The Heat have been slow out of the gates and a more full-strength Boston squad stole a win in South Beach last week thanks to Payton Pritchard’s last-second putback.

The Bulls are 4-6 and give up the second most points in the East (trailing only the Wizards). The Magic are 6-3 but have benefited from a favorable schedule. Orlando lost Markelle Fultz for the season due to an ACL tear on Wednesday, then got routed by the Rockets on Friday. 

It sorta feels like survival mode for Boston. The good news is that reinforcements could arrive by the end of the week and the second game of a set with Orlando on January 15. That appears to be the first time that Thompson and the two Williams might be eligible to return.

CAN KEMBA HELP IN TATUM'S ABSENCE?

The Celtics have been emphatic that they won’t rush Kemba Walker back and we doubt the Tatum situation will alter that plan. That said, Walker is eligible to return to practice with the team now and, if he feels as good as Stevens suggested on Friday night, it’s going to be hard to keep him from wanting to be out on the court for a shorthanded team.

The bigger question, of course, is whether the NBA should be playing games at all as COVID cases spike across the league. With teams traveling in this bubble-less setup and an unrelenting schedule, it feels like the league is nearing a point where it has to strongly consider whether it’s prudent to continue playing games.

The NBA built some flexibility into its scheduling by only releasing dates for the first half of the season. A temporary shutdown could see games shifted to the second half of the year.

At what point does health and safety become the priority for the league? Not only are teams losing players to COVID protocol but it’s putting added stress on the players that are able to go, all with a schedule thin on downtime.