Tatum Healthy, Excited for Return After Weeklong COVID Absence

Jayson Tatum returned to practice Tuesday afternoon, just eight days after entering the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols, and appears to be on track to return to game action Wednesday night when the Boston Celtics host the San Antonio Spurs at TD Garden.

The All-Star wing tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of Boston’s Dec. 27 matchup in Minnesota and missed the following four games. He was cleared from the Protocols prior to Sunday’s matchup against the Orlando Magic, for which he was considered a game-time decision; however, he wasn’t feeling 100 percent healthy ahead of tip-off, so he remained on the sideline during Boston’s 116-111 win.

After being back in the gym for a couple of days, Tatum said he’s feeling “a lot better with everything,” especially compared to how he felt following his previous COVID diagnosis in January 2021 when he missed two weeks’ worth of games.

“My quarantine was shorter, my body feels a lot better, comparing my first couple of days back practicing than last year when I first came back,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “So that’s a positive sign.”

Tatum experienced lingering symptoms following his first positive test last season, which carried throughout most of the spring. His breathing and conditioning were affected, and he regularly had to use an inhaler before games.

Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said that Tatum’s symptoms didn’t seem nearly as severe this time around, which means the 23-year-old likely won’t face a minutes restriction upon his return. Though, he also probably won’t have to play as many minutes as he had been prior to his positive test (had logged the third-most minutes in the NBA before his absence), considering how Boston’s roster is nearly back to full health.

“I think we can settle him back into the rotation, not only coming out of COVID, but also with the bodies that we have back and the full complement of players,” Udoka stated. “We don't have to have him play as long as stretches or as many minutes in general.”

The coach added, “He’s had two or three extra sessions and he's looking good out here with what he is doing so far, and he's the type of guy that wants to come back and get right back into his role and not be limited. Something he's stressed that he doesn't love is a minutes restriction and anything like that. As long as his conditioning and his wind is fine, he can get right back to playing at the level that he was.”

Tatum had been playing at his typical All-Star level prior to the COVID diagnosis, with season averages of 25.6 points, a career-high 8.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. Exactly one week before testing positive, he had been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the fifth time in his career, after averaging 31.3 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, 7.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.3 steals per game from Dec. 13-19.

Jaylen Brown held down the fort during Tatum’s absence, posting 32.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game over the last four contests, which included a career-best 50-point outing Sunday night against Orlando.

Now that Brown is thriving and the team is almost completely healthy, Tatum hopes that the Celtics can finally put together a string of wins upon his return.

“Hopefully this next stretch, guys can stay on the court and we can have a nice run with everybody healthy and together,” Tatum said. “Hopefully we can start to play our best basketball.”

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