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Brad Stevens on NBA welcoming fans back into stadiums: “that’s what makes sports fun”

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Game 1 in Brooklyn was Stevens’ first without a mask.

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets - Game One Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

On Saturday night, basketball looked a little more — for lack of a better word — normal. The Celtics defense looked more like it has in recent years, Mad Brad was patrolling the sidelines, and 14,000 Nets fans were screaming in Barclays Center.

With COVID rates in decline, governors have started to relax restrictions for indoor sporting events just in time for the NBA and NHL postseasons. Game 1 was Brad Stevens’ first without a mask and while he appreciated the playoff atmosphere after a long year going from the bubble to no fans to small percentages and now to nearly full venues, he was quick to acknowledge the toll the pandemic has had on the world.

“As coaches — just the head coaches — are allowed to take the masks off and you look up into the crowd and everybody has their mask off and all of a sudden, it’s just all flipped,” Stevens said after Monday’s practice. “There is a sense of taking a step back and thinking about what the last year has been like and obviously, anything that has been unique in sports is nothing compared to the real world adversity that people who have dealt with COVID and lost loved ones with COVID. So, I certainly don’t want to make it sound like that, but it is nice to see fans in the stands.

It’s nice to be back in that environment. We would all prefer, even on the road, playing in front of 18,000 or 15,000 or whatever. To turn on the TV to see Madison Square Garden rocking yesterday or to see some of these other places going the way they were, that’s what you want to see. That’s what makes sports fun.”

After Game 2, the Celtics will host Games 3 & 4 on the parquet at TD Garden. Friday night will still be limited capacity at 25%, but Sunday’s game should feature a full crowd. Per the TD Garden statement:

The Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics have confirmed with their respective leagues that TD Garden is permitted to align with City and State guidelines and return to near full capacity beginning May 29, 2021. Per NHL and NBA league guidelines, all guests will continue to be required to wear masks and follow Play It Safe protocols until further notice. For updates to Play It Safe protocols, please visit: www.TDGarden.com/PlayItSafe

For Tristan Thompson, having a full crowd behind him and the team is exactly why he signed with the Celtics in the offseason. “It gives us energy and it gives us life, and that’s what makes Boston and TD Garden so special. The fans are so close and on top of you and they have that energy that can really ignite our team,” Thompson said.

“That’s what I miss the most and that was a big reason why I wanted to be a part of this team because of the fanbase and how much they bleed that green. We just need some fans in the arena, that’s what we need. We need that. I want to experience that. That’s why I came here.”