BOSTON — The Knicks and Celtics were scheduled for a 7 p.m. start Saturday, and maybe it was for the best that they opted for that time and not a half-hour later. It seemed the longer the day went on, the greater the number of players ruled out.
By game time, the Knicks and Celtics each had six players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols and were signing G League players to help fill out the roster, giving them enough players to make it through the night.
The day began with the news that Miles McBride had been placed in the protocols, joining the five other Knicks already on the list, including Immanuel Quickley, who had worked well with McBride in the backcourt in Thursday night’s win over Houston. And the Knicks, like most NBA teams, were left to pick up the pieces.
Until the mandatory half-hour from game time, the Knicks and coach Tom Thibodeau would not reveal whether Derrick Rose would be available after sitting out the second half Thursday with a sore right ankle. If Rose could not go, that would have left the Knicks so shorthanded that when asked if he was ready to use Kemba Walker, who had been kept on the bench for the previous 10 games, Thibodeau said, "Yup, yup, yup, yup."
That turned out to be reality for the Knicks. Rose was ruled out and Walker regained the starting role he had held before being removed from the rotation. Thibodeau had resisted using him at all, with the first absence a rest day in Atlanta before a change in the starting lineup was made in which Alec Burks took the starting point guard role and Walker never played another minute.
He would stand and cheer every game for his teammates, work out early and stay late after the team practiced — when the team still could practice. But Walker was never called on, with Thibodeau calling it a coach’s decision and noting that he considered Walker a starter and would resist using him in a bench role.
But necessity finally changed that as the Knicks lost so many players to COVID-19 testing. Even longtime television analyst Walt Frazier was away from the team after testing positive.
"Like everyone else, you have to be concerned," Thibodeau said. "You take every precaution you can. Safety has to come first. Whatever it is the medical people and league is recommending, we’re going to try to do. We’re going to take every precaution."
The Knicks signed Tyler Hall from the Westchester Knicks to a 10-day contract, a hardship exemption based on the number of players missing from action.
Just getting any work in to prepare for the game has become a mission completely against everything that Thibodeau believes in.
The team can’t hold normal practices or morning shootarounds. They taped out the dimensions of one end of a basketball court in a hotel ballroom, at least walking through preparation for the opposition.
"There’s restrictions on everything," Thibodeau said. "I think most of the stuff that you’re doing is in the ballroom now with restrictions there as well. So you’re not going over to have practice and things of that nature. You’re trying to control things as best you can
"The court is marked down, but you get six feet apart, all the stuff that we have to do. So I think most teams are in that grouping now . . . You can do 1-on-0 . . . You have to follow the protocols that you’re in, so you’re allowed to shoot with one coach and one player. There’s nothing live. There’s no group action going on. So it’s all individual work."
He was asked if they set up baskets in the ballroom and joked, "No, but that’s actually a good idea. That’s probably the next step. We’re a little concerned about the chandeliers."