Heat-Celtics game postponed by NBA due to virus protocols

Jan 10, 2021, 5:03 PM

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) defends Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) during the fir...

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) defends Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

(AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Boston was going to have to face Miami with the NBA minimum of eight players on Sunday night. In the end, the Heat weren’t even certain they would have that many.

The game between Boston and Miami was postponed — not because the Celtics ruled out seven players due to the league’s health and safety protocols for playing during the coronavirus pandemic, but because of concerns about exposure within the Heat roster.

The Heat learned earlier Sunday that guard Avery Bradley would not be available for the game in Boston because of the COVID-19 protocols. That meant the Heat had to go through the contact tracing data, and with that process still ongoing late Sunday afternoon, the decision was made to postpone the game out of abundance of caution.

The league announced the decision about two hours before the 7 p.m. scheduled tipoff.

“You are starting to see what is going on in our country directly affect the NBA because we are no longer in that safety net of the bubble,” Denver coach Michael Malone said in New York, where his team was facing the Knicks, after learning of the postponement.

The Celtics would have been without seven players for the game due to the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols, all of them ruled out earlier Sunday, along with two others because of injury. That would have left Boston with only eight available players, the league minimum.

The Heat didn’t even have that many cleared by the NBA to play, hence the decision to postpone. The team was staying in Boston overnight while the tracing process continued and is scheduled to play in Philadelphia — another team with virus-related issues — on Tuesday and Thursday. The 76ers played only seven players Saturday in a loss to Denver, doing so in part because some were ruled out in accordance with the virus protocols.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association put together a plan last year to finish the season in a bubble environment at Walt Disney World in Central Florida, where nobody tested positive and no games were missed because of the virus. But it’s hardly been uncommon for NBA players to miss games this season over virus-related issues, without the safety of the bubble. In Brooklyn, Kevin Durant returned to the Nets on Sunday night after missing three games because of the virus protocols.

“I hope not,” Indiana guard Victor Oladipo said when asked if he thought going back to a bubble would be possible this season. “But I think the NBA’s doing all they can and they’re doing a great job, and the NBPA as well, working together to do a great job to make sure we are as safe as possible. It’s tough. You can try your best and unfortunately there will still be some people that catch it.”

The Heat-Celtics game is the second postponed in the NBA this season. A game between Oklahoma City and Houston was postponed on Dec. 23 because the Rockets did not have enough eligible players to play — three had returned tests that were either positive or inconclusive for the coronavirus, four others were quarantined, James Harden was unavailable for violating the protocols and another player was out with an injury. That left Houston with seven players.

The Celtics on Sunday ruled out Jaylen Brown, Javonte Green, Semi Ojeleye, Jayson Tatum, Tristan Thompson, Grant Williams and Robert Williams because of the protocols. That’s the most any team has been without because of virus-related issues so far this season but does not necessarily mean any of the affected Celtics tested positive.

“The numbers are spiking,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday. “That is the reality. We are committed to proceeding with our industry and we’re doing it with all the best science and adherence to the protocols, but ultimately we’re not in control.”

Bradley being ruled out also did not mean he had tested positive. Bradley — who signed with the Heat during the offseason — opted not to join the Los Angeles Lakers, his former team, in the bubble last year because he has a child with breathing problems and did not want to take any unnecessary risks.

“I mean, this is the new normal,” Bradley said earlier this season, explaining his decision to play again. “My decision right now is to just focus on playing. That’s my focus. I feel like everyone has a better idea of this virus; obviously, there’s still some unknowns. But my decision not to go to the bubble just was about the impact on my family.”

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