Boston forward Jayson Tatum and the Celtics reopen the season on Friday against the Bucks. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

He was sitting in a hotel room in Milwaukee on the night of March 11, keeping tabs on the night’s NBA games.

Just moments before the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz were going to tip off, though, Jayson Tatum saw players milling around before leaving the court to go to their locker rooms.

The game had been called off after Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19, and not long after that, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver put the 2019-20 season on hold.

“I remember when it happened,’ said Tatum, now in his third season with the Celtics. “It was a surreal moment.”

With the pandemic spreading in a hurry, no one back then knew when basketball would be played again. There was a chance the season was finished with the start of the 2020-21 season up in the air.

But 20 weeks after that night in Milwaukee, Tatum and the Celtics are about to restart their season.


It all begins again at 6:30 p.m. Friday when the Celtics get together with the Milwaukee Bucks inside the Disney World bubble.

For the first time in franchise history, the Celtics are playing regular-season games – eight of them over a 14-day span – during the summer, all on neutral courts as the NBA tries to work around the pandemic.

The Celtics were supposed to play the Bucks on national television on March 12, but instead flew back to Boston that day and went into quarantine.

They have been at Disney World since July 8, going through practice sessions and three scrimmages, and now it’s back to basketball leading up to the start of the playoffs on Aug. 17.

To get things going, the Celtics (43-21) will be playing the team with the best record in the league. The Bucks have been dominant, going 53-12 with MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo again leading the way.

The Bucks, who eliminated the Celtics in five games last season, have a three-game lead over the Los Angeles Lakers for the best overall record. They will be without guards Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton after both players arrived late to Florida because they had tested positive for COVID-19.


“I think we’re about where I expected us to be,” said Boston Coach Brad Stevens, who rested his top seven players in the third and last scrimmage Tuesday night, a 137-112 loss to the Houston Rockets. “We’re going to find out so much more about us on Friday because those guys, they come at you full steam ahead on both ends of the court.

“I just think Milwaukee is at a different level. That’ll be a great test for us. Nobody’s been at that level all year. That’s what everybody is shooting for. From our standpoint, we have to make sure we are so locked in on both ends of the floor. That’s why I’m excited about playing them first because we’re going to know a lot.”

Everyone is getting a fresh start since the NBA has been on hold for more than four months during the pandemic.

There are 22 teams at Disney World finalizing the playoff seeding over the next two weeks and regaining their edges after being away from the game for so long.

The Celtics, who were a steady defensive team, know that end of the floor will be important if they are to stick around Central Florida for a long time. The defense struggled in the first scrimmage against the Thunder last Friday and has been an emphasis all week for Stevens.

“I think we just have to make sure we do a lot better at that end of the floor,” he said. “If we play like that against Milwaukee, they could set records, so we better be a lot better.


“I’ve seen good strides from Oklahoma City to Phoenix (a win on Sunday) to the practices. (We) have to be really good because this team we’re playing Friday, I’m not surprised at the numbers they’ve put up this year.”

Antetokounmpo has been phenomenal as he bids for a second straight MVP award, averaging 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

Stopping the Bucks by getting the defense on track quickly will be a key for the Celtics.

“We’ve just got to go out there and do it,” Marcus Smart said. “Easier said than done. Just like in a fight, you get your head hit a few times, you’re going to change up and start protecting from those head shots.

“We got beat in transition a few times in these scrimmages, and we’ve really focused on that. We’re not the biggest team, but our defense and our speed and quickness and athleticism is what makes us hard to beat.”It’s going to be a whole new game for the NBA as the Celtics and the rest of the team play in front of no fans in three Disney World arenas.

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