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Evan Fournier struggling in return from COVID

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Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a rough return for Evan Fournier. The Celtics beat the Hornets 120-111 on Wednesday night and Fournier got the start with Marcus Smart suspended and Kemba Walker injured, but he struggled with his shot. Fournier’s lone field goal came on a snaking drive into the paint and a P.J. Washington goaltend. It’s impossible to say if the floater would have even gone in, but at this point in Fournier’s recovery, anything positive in the box score is a bonus.

When Boston acquired him at the deadline, the hope was that Fournier would add needed veteran scoring off the bench. After getting his feet wet in his first two games, he caught fire. To start April, he hit ten threes in a row (11-for-16 total) over a two-game span against the visiting Rockets and Hornets. This was the former Orlando swingman that the team wanted to add for a playoff run.

And then Fournier contracted COVID.

He would then miss nine games over nineteen days, critical contests in the Celtics’ efforts to gel and create chemistry before the postseason. He’s played in four games in his comeback so far and it’s clear that he’s still just getting his legs underneath him, let alone finding a rhythm with his relatively new teammates.

“He will not make this excuse, but he’s dealing with some of the after effects of it. He is feeling a little bit better wind-wise, but he’s just a little foggy,” Brad Stevens said after went 1-for-7 against the Hornets.

Including the Charlotte game, Fournier has hit just five of his last 31 shots, including 2-for-14 from behind the arc. To their credit, the Celtics know that this is part of the process.

“From everything that they know (about returning from COVID), it’s to continue to log minutes and to log experience, but he’s frustrated by it for sure,” Stevens reiterated.

“It affects everybody differently as we’ve talked about and it’s been a challenge for him, but I will say is that all he wants to do is play and try to help us win. Once he got cleared, it was about, ‘I’ll do anything I can to get into the mix and getting as much experience with this group as possible and hopefully helping us win.’ He’ll benefit from that down the road, but it has not been an easy transition out of it.”

After his first game back in Brooklyn, Fournier said that he could have probably taken a few more days off to feel better physically, but his unfamiliarity with the offensive and defensive system meant that any time he could spend on the floor with the team were positive minutes, even if he wasn’t making shots.

And to his credit, Fournier has played through it. Against Charlotte, he logged over 31 minutes after playing 35 minutes the night before against the Thunder. He’s in a shooting slump, but for Fournier, the hardest part is behind him and now, it’s just a matter of moving forward.

“The first two days, I was doing great. No symptoms at all, then for four or five days, flu-like symptoms: high fever, really tired, fatigued, headaches, all that. I honestly just stayed in bed and slept all day for four or five days,” Fournier said about his bout with the virus. “The roughest part was actually ramping up the activity. Those last two days of practice were really really hard. I had moments when I was doing really good and moments when I was exhausted.”

The Celtics’ collective struggle with the coronavirus is well-documented. Boston has missed a whopping 167 games to the league’s health and safety protocols, and that doesn’t include all the in-game recovery time that’s needed to get back up to speed. These next nine games for Fournier are just the perfect microcosm of what the team has been dealing with all year: the condensed schedule, struggling to get up to speed, and most importantly, keeping an eye towards the playoffs.

“That’s what I mean when I said you have to push through it,” Fournier said. “You have to go through that to feel better, because I don’t want to spend another week just ramping up my activity and doing cardio and all that because I need reps with the guys.”