BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics have been hitting the gym at the Auerbach Center for the last few weeks, but Wednesday was a big day for the team. It was the first day that all players made their way through the team’s training facility for mandatory workouts.
The Celtics had perfect attendance on Wednesday, and better yet, no players have tested positive for COVID-19 since they started testing everyone — players, coaches and staff members — back on June 23. So far, no one has opted out of the NBA’s restart in Orlando, either.
That sets up Boston extremely well for when they make their way down to the NBA’s “bubble season” next week.
“We’re testing every other day and, knock on wood, none so far,” head coach Brad Stevens told reporters on a Zoom call Wednesday. “It’s important that we all take care of ourselves and do everything we can to go into the bubble healthy. Those first couple of weeks of practice are going to be important getting our legs underneath us. Once you get into practice and really playing, it’s a different kind of level you have to reach.”
The Celtics arrive in Orlando on July 8, with a three-week training camp tipping off the next day. Stevens said he was pleased with how his players stayed in shape during the NBA’s COVID-19 hiatus, though admitted they have a long way to go to get back into “game shape.” Celtics star point guard Kemba Walker agrees.
“It feels good. Still getting in that game shape; it’s tough when you aren’t able to play. It’s just a different shape,” said Walker. “You can do all the running you want –basketball shape is different. But we’re getting there, slowly but surely.”
Stevens said when practices do resume again, he won’t be running his players through a wall. They’ll likely go hard for back-to-back days, have a light day, two more hard days, and then a day off. All of that will be preparation for a packed schedule when games tip off.
“When we start games it’s going to be every other day for as long as we go. We have to be ready for that kind of schedule. That’s where our focus is right now,” said Stevens. “I’m happy with where our guys are individually. Inevitably, that first practice is going to be different and we have to manage that appropriately.”
And while chemistry issues were the hot topic of last year’s Celtics, Walker has no concerns about the team’s chemistry when they take the court together again, even after such a long layoff.
“From Day 1, our vibe and our chemistry was already there. The first day anyone has seen anyone, it was like we were with each other yesterday,” he said. “That’s the kind of team we have, we’re so close. We’re going out to handle our business. Guys worked hard to keep their bodies in shape, so were going to be ready to go for sure.”
While the eight seeding games that lie ahead of the Celtics will be important, giving Boston a chance to jump up from the No. 3 seed in the East, Stevens said the team’s focus will be on getting into their best shape for the playoffs.
“We want to be at our best on Aug 17. Everyone will have different dates, but we have two weeks, a couple of scrimmages, and then eight seeding games. The seeding games are important for everyone who is there, but at the same time the most important time will be Aug 17,” he explained. “As we prepare and add minutes into the equation, that is our day that we have in mind. That’s importation to be able to play our best, and I feel that’s enough time to be able to get ready to do that. Our guys have stayed in shape and done everything they can to this point.”
Neither Stevens or Walker seemed to be concerned about COVID-19 in the Orlando bubble, with both expressing confidence that the NBA will have things locked down tight.
Stevens hasn’t heard that he’ll have to wear a mask during practice or during games, but the C’s coach is ready to adapt if he has to.
“I’ll follow whatever protocols they tell me; I’ll prioritize safety first,” he said. “I’ve been told in games and practice I wont have to — that’ll be after we have been tested and quarantined. But if it have to, I have to.
“I’ll have to get good at hand signals,” Stevens joked.