DETROIT — The Celtics were able to spend extensive time in the Orlando NBA bubble developing chemistry and closeness. This new NBA season is different, however, because teams are traveling to other cities, mostly desolate because of COVID-19, with no fans.
The Celtics will continue this four-game trip Monday when they travel to Tampa to face the Toronto Raptors, who are playing there because of Canadian COVID restrictions. This is Boston’s second road trip of the season but first that includes three cities.
Detroit is essentially a ghost town because of COVID, with dine-in at restaurants disallowed, making for limited off-court activity. Do such circumstances help or hurt a Celtics team with several newcomers? Coach Brad Stevens said he’s unsure.
“There’s not really much to do,” Stevens said. “A lot of the areas that we’ve been around, I haven’t spent a ton of time downtown but wow Indianapolis was really empty. Where we spent time this, there’s not a lot open, not a lot around. The pandemic has affected everyone but the change to congregate in our own situation is in huge ballrooms, really well spaced with masks on. It’s unique, even more unique, I’d say, than the bubble.”
Stevens said the meeting spaces in the bubble were smaller because everyone on the premises had been COVID tested. During the new season, the Celtics are coming together in large ballrooms, socially distant with masks.
“You really did feel like you were all in this together all the time [in the bubble],” Stevens said. “It was an experience that was just unlike any other. This, I think we have to continue to have team meetings when we can, because there are a lot of challenges with the testing to do that. It’s a good question, we’re going to do everything we can to bring back that camaraderie and that togetherness. But it is unique to any travel that I have ever been a part of.”
How is it working?
Stevens’s most surprising move this season has been placing big men Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson in the starting lineup together in today’s small-ball NBA. The results have been mixed, evidenced by the painfully slow start in Friday’s loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Thompson thinks it will be effective, however.
“It helps us defensively be better and I think with myself, Theis, [Jaylen Brown] and [Jayson Tatum], and with [Marcus] Smart, that lineup has so much potential defensively,” he said. “A lot of us can switch. I can switch on to guards. Defensively it should help and offensively our team is so much smoother with the ball. I don’t think it’s an issue at all. You look at other teams around the league, Indiana, Lakers, Clippers, a lot of teams play two bigs and you can make it work.”
That lineup took a pounding Sunday, with the Pistons hitting 16 of their 36 3-point attempts and shooting 67 percent in the opening quarter. The Celtics did hold the Pistons to 43 percent shooting in the second half.
“I think we have the makings of a capable defensive team, yes. I’m not sure that we have shown that we are a good defensive team by any means,” he said. “There’s a big difference between the two of those. Last year, I think a lot of people didn’t think we would be very good defensively, but it was a real team-wide commitment to be great on that end of the floor. I think that was something that helped buoy us at the start. It showed true most of the playoff run, at times we weren’t as good.
“This team has had its moments, it has improved in the last three to four games from over the first couple. But, we’re not where we want to be defensively by any means. Some of that is guys that are new and picking up schemes. We do have some good defenders and we do have some areas we have to manage.”
The Pistons welcomed back former All-Star Blake Griffin, who missed Friday’s win over the Celtics after being placed in concussion protocol … Jeff Teague left Sunday’s game with a sprained left ankle sustained in the fourth quarter … Pistons forward Josh Jackson left the game with an ankle sprain after scoring a layup early in the second half. He had scored 13 points in his first 14 minutes … The Celtics make their first Detroit-to-Tampa back to back on Sunday night for their first matchup with the Toronto Raptors, who have relocated to Tampa because of coronavirus restrictions in Canada.