No matter how bad things may have gotten for both players and teams during the season, nobody truly benefits from this unexpected altered schedule. Athletes are creatures of habit. To disrupt that under any circumstance will breed more cons than pros.
Those looking on the brighter side tend to find more silver linings than anything else. A slump that gets a fresh start. A lingering injury that gets proper time to heal. For the Celtics, that line is split fairly evenly down the middle. How it affects the bottom line that is their title hopes will reveal itself if and when the season comes back.
The All-Star break is supposed to serve as a much-needed recharge for battered bodies looking to sprint through the latter half of the season and to the playoffs. Kemba Walker didn’t use it that way, and his play slowly got worse because of it.
Walker limped into All-Star Weekend after following up a three-game absence with a four-game stretch of 18.8 points per game on 32.2 percent shooting.
Already bothered by knee troubles, he played through a minutes restriction in the ASG and wound up missing the first five games of the second half of the season. Walker returned against Brooklyn on March 3, shooting 6-of-16 for 21 points before sitting out the following game on the second night of a back-to-back.
Brad Stevens says the Celtics had to drain some swelling in Kemba Walker’s sore knee. He says Kemba wouldn’t have played in the All-Star game if they knew this was possible. He’s out tonight, not sure going forward.— Tom Westerholm (@Tom_NBA) February 21, 2020
In the three games after, Walker averaged just 12.7 points per game on 27.9 percent shooting.
He’ll certainly be rusty upon return to the court as will a majority of NBA players, but the most important thing for Kemba was to get his body right so his game could follow. That wasn’t going to happen amid Boston’s playoff push, but it surely took place over these last months.
As someone who missed an entire year due to injury and spent another rounding into some semblance of his former self, Gordon Hayward really didn’t need any time to kill the encouraging momentum he’d built over the season.
Hayward was averaging 17.3 points on a 59.3 true shooting percentage along with 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game - numbers matched only by five other players, four of whom were 2020 All-Stars.
His fixture as a positive member of Boston’s starting lineup was a welcomed sight after everything it took to get to that point.
This won’t be the first time Hayward has returned from a prolonged absence this season. A fractured hand cost him 13 straight games earlier in the year.
You still have to feel for the guy who’s done everything in his power to get back to a certain standard of productivity. Only to watch as powers beyond his control continuously find ways to halt his steady progress.
Like Kemba, Jaylen Brown was hit with the injury bug just before the suspension of the NBA season.
A right hamstring injury cost him four straight games. Unfortunate, given how well he was playing with six consecutive 20-point outings ahead of sitting out.
Hamstring troubles are nothing new to the fourth-year wing. A similar ailment limited him to just 16 minutes in Boston’s Game 7 first-round victory over Milwaukee in 2018, bleeding into an absence for Game 1 of the conference semis against the Sixers.
Brown was set to miss at least one week, where he would then be reevaluated. Had his injury extended further into the season’s final stretch, perhaps an internal pressure would arise for him to help his team jostling for playoff positioning, likely doing more long-term harm than good.
Even if those compulsions never came, an injury that’s nagged Brown many times over now gets the chance to fully heal. For players of all ages, that’s always a good thing.
Few were performing at the level of Jayson Tatum in the weeks before the NBA was put on hold.
Already amid a breakout campaign, the first-time All-Star averaged 28.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks a night across his last 17 outings. Elite numbers while also shooting 47.7 percent from the floor and a blistering 45.8 percent on 8.5 3-point attempts per game.
This was Tatum’s ascension to superstardom, the elite play to assert himself as Boston’s top dog in a way Celtics fans always believed he could.
A talent like that doesn’t simply lose those abilities, even amid an unexpected hiatus. But there is still a loss that comes from a hype train coming to a sudden halt after operating at breakneck speeds, even if it’s expected to eventually pick up again.
Boston’s momentum (or lack thereof)
The Celtics might have been the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference, but they were not in the best shape by the time the NBA suspended the 2019-20 season.
Their most-recent 10 games brought a 5-5 record. Kemba’s knee problems were manifesting into poor performances. Brown missed four straight due to a hamstring issue.
The season’s stoppage is a momentum killer for teams stringing together consistent wins. It’s a much-needed reset button for Boston, allowing bodies to fully heal and a chance to leave that middling stretch well in the past.
When the season resumes in any sort of capacity, the time off will allow the Celtics to get closer to the form that had them atop the conference standings.
Without it, who knows how much further they would’ve spiraled with the postseason just around the corner.
With a gaping hole in the middle of Boston’s lineup, Daniel Theis has stepped into the starting center position and performed better than many expected.
The third-year big-man has been an efficient restricted-area finisher at 70.7 percent while averaging 9.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 23.8 minutes a night.
As well as Theis has filled the hole left by Al Horford’s departure to the best of his abilities, he is not the caliber player to fix the woes that ail Boston’s interior defense, holes that have the potential to be exposed against teams with the means to exploit them like Toronto and Philadelphia.
As the playoffs neared on schedule, that was an issue Boston was on track to avoid regardless of seeding. Always at risk to go down, Joel Embiid missed five straight before a brief one-game return. Age and attrition limited Marc Gasol to just 36 appearances on the season, one since January 29th.
Under this new schedule, the two centers should see improved health by the time the season recommences. Neither has proved too much trouble in their limited interactions with the Celtics this season. However, both still have the potential to be, and it’ll fall greatly on Theis to make sure they remain bottled.