PHILADELPHIA — Neemias Queta scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds and shot 6-for-6 in the preseason finale for the Celtics against Charlotte. Joe Mazzulla mentioned giving him more minutes and opportunity that he earned through a strong training camp. Organizationally, Boston considered keeping him around the team even after he signed a two-way contract and Maine’s G-League season began to start.
Then — he felt a familiar pain in his right foot. The Celtics shut Queta down as the regular season began. He’s missed the first eight games now, and remains without a timeline for a return.
Traveling with the Celtics over the past three games, Queta told CLNS Media that he and the team will continue to monitor the injury, how it feels after rehab and practice sessions. For now, treatment mostly involves staying off his foot. He believes the ailment is an aggravation of the same stress fracture that sidelined Queta with Sacramento during the Summer League in July. Queta had also suffered a foot sprain in Las Vegas.
“(Pain) comes and goes,” Queta said. “There are ups-and-downs, but I definitely feel like it’s trending the right way.”
Queta only played 20 NBA games with the Kings, casting some doubt over whether he’d impact the Celtics consistently. Kristaps Porziņģis and Al Horford manned most of the center minutes so far this season, with Luke Kornet only averaging 9.7 minutes across six games. That left a narrow lane for him to impact, but potentially a helpful one for a struggling bench unit averaging an NBA-worst 23.1 points per game and 38.9% FG.
Payton Pritchard fell to 23.5% FG in Wednesday’s loss to the 76ers, Sam Hauser shot 40.5% from three, close, but slightly down from last year. Boston posted a +1.6 net rating in Kornet’s minutes so far, the worst mark among the team’s regular contributors. Oshae Brissett played consistent minutes before DNP-CDs in the last two games. Lamar Stevens and Svi Mykhailiuk only briefly broke through for first quarter appearances in Minnesota.
Mazzulla said on Nov. 1 that the Celtics would watch his condition over the ensuing 1-2 weeks, and his travel with the team pointed toward a short, rather than longer-term absence. He’ll have to ramp up upon return.
“I’ll still get in the mix in practice,” Queta said. “I’m trying to be with them on the road … I’m just trying to be cautious about it. Hopefully it’ll be a quick return within the next couple of days … it just depends on how it feels … how it recovers after days of harder work. We’ll go day-by-day and see how it goes. Hopefully it’ll be soon.”
“It sucks,” he said. “You gotta be mature and we gotta be able to adjust to all the situations that come your way. I feel like this’ll be a year full of adversity, but at the same time, there’s stuff I gotta be able to deal with. I’m really not too concerned about it. I’m trying to stay locked in through the process, keep learning all the stuff I can besides just playing. I can watch, I can talk, I can listen … just trying to take advantage of opportunity, whichever way it comes.”
Queta remains inactive against the Nets tonight while Horford rests on the front end of the back-to-back before Boston faces Toronto tomorrow. Porziņģis will play both games with opportunities for the Celtics to play smaller against teams that typically run smaller. Brad Stevens said in the preseason he’ll continue to monitor center options, but alongside Mazzulla expressed faith in Kornet, Queta and the players in the gym during the summer, which included training camp tryout Wenyen Gabriel. Boston waived Gabriel and opened up the 15th roster spot before opening night and Gabriel joined Milwaukee’s G-League Wisconsin Herd.
The Celtics retain a trade exception if their depth becomes further depleted. Brissett faced a scare in Brooklyn when he injured a loose rebound and sprained his left thumb. An MRI revealed no structural damage, though Mazzulla did not play Brissett, who’s shooting 21.4% from the field and 14.3% from three after four straight appearances. They spoke about that decision before the Minnesota game, but he was available for both games after swelling reduced. Brissett continued to wear tape and a splint around the area at shootaround on Friday.
Mazzulla, Brissett and the bench group went through a film session after the Celtics’ win over Washington where that group largely squandered the lead, resulting in a record TD Garden fourth quarter performance in the ensuing blowout win over Indiana. They’re still searching for effectiveness within the flow of games, managing only 16 points in the loss to Philadelphia.
“We were up by a lot and we really just didn’t do our best and put our best foot forward,” Kornet said. “Especially for the groups to close games. Every single minute that we have is just as precious as any one that happened during the game. I feel like we all kind of had a bad taste in our mouths from that and realized the things we need to lock in.”
“Our next game, we were able to put it to use and be a lot more intentional and focused and disciplined in what we’re trying to do on the court … versatility defensively … being able to give different looks, whether it’s switching, being able to play drop and help … continue to bring extra physicality, rim protection and rebounding … getting used to playing with the new guys. We have a lot of different ways that we can look on any given night … whether it’s having to play-make a little bit more or just be a great screener.”