After Boston Celtics guard Evan Fournier caught COVID-19 and missed nine games, he said he could have missed a few more to "really feel better." He could do nothing but sleep for four or five days while sick, and ramping up his physical activity to get back on the court was extremely difficult. He returned on April 23, though, and pledged to push through his exhaustion after shooting 0 for 7 against the Brooklyn Nets. He'd been acquired from the Orlando Magic at the March 25 trade deadline, and he felt that he needed reps with his new team.
Heading into Sunday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Fournier's 10th game as a Celtic and sixth since being sidelined, he was clearly struggling. In his first week back, he'd scored a total of 23 points on 8-for-37 shooting and missed 17 of his 21 3-point attempts, with nine assists and eight turnovers in 130 minutes. Naturally, when he scored 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting against the Blazers, including five 3s on seven attempts, a reporter asked him if this meant he was feeling better.
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Unfortunately, it is not that simple. "I've been feeling really weird, to be honest," Fournier said. While it felt great to make some shots and feel a bit more like himself on the court, symptoms have lingered.
"It's like I have a concussion," Fournier said. "Right now it's actually doing a little bit better, but at first it's like the bright lights were bothering my eyes and my vision was blurry and everything was just going too fast for me. And, I mean, it's still the case. Some [things] are better, but at times I am really struggling to focus and my eyes keep struggling focusing on one thing. My depth perception is really bad right now."
Fournier said he saw a specialist and she gave him some exercises to do. He said he's felt "slightly better" for "two or three days now, maybe four," and he "can't just take games off or a practice off because I'm not feeling well mentally -- my body's available, I have to be available." He said he is determined to "keep pushing" and is "not overly concerned for my health because I know in time it's going to get better," but, for now, it is still "nowhere near where it needs to be."
Five weeks ago, in his first Zoom chat with Boston media, Fournier said he was excited when he heard about the trade and wanted to help the team win. He also lamented that a false positive COVID-19 test delayed his debut by a couple of days, stating that it was "not the best timing for that to happen." Fournier is 28 years old, in his ninth season and on an expiring contract, and he's made the playoffs three times in his career -- as a rookie in Denver, then the last two years in Orlando. Each appearance ended in the first round, and with the Magic he wasn't nearly as efficient as he was in the regular season.
Ideally, the trade would have given him seven weeks to learn his teammates' tendencies and establish his rhythm before the postseason. Instead, he is merely trying to get back to normal.
"It's very unfortunate, the timing of things," Fournier said. "Obviously, I'm new here, so people don't really know my game and know who I am. And it's just terrible timing. I get here with high expectations and ambitions, trying to make a run, and for the first time in my career I have an opportunity to make a really deep run into the playoffs with a team. So it's kind of a golden opportunity for me to finally be with a great team, and the fact that I got COVID and now I'm feeling like this, it's heartbreaking, to be honest."
The Celtics' Jayson Tatum was one of the first NBA players to speak bluntly about the after-effects of COVID-19, saying in February that he was finding himself out of breath and fatigued much faster than normal during games. Two months later, Tatum revealed he was still using an inhaler before every game. When Fournier was sick, Tatum warned him that the toughest period is when you first get back.
While Fournier's performance against Portland might have looked like a breakthrough, it's not as if he has put COVID-19 behind him. His plan, he said, was to "stop talking about it, so it might help me." The reality, however, is that his body doesn't care what he discusses on Zoom. "It's been a painful comeback, to say the least," he said, "but what matters is that we build momentum going into the playoffs." In other words, there's only so much he can do to speed up his recovery. In the meantime he will play hard and hope for the best.