The schedule-makers did few favors for the Boston Celtics over the first two months of the 2013-14 season. They threw the team a bone at Christmas time.
For the first time in six seasons, the Celtics will not be part of the NBA's jam-packed Christmas Day slate and instead are enjoying a rare five-day holiday break.
After Sunday's loss in Indiana, Boston coaches and players dispersed across the country. The team will take three full days off from basketball activities before reconvening for practice at the team's training facility in Waltham, Mass., on Thursday. Boston doesn't return to game action until a Saturday matinee against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers.
Playing on Christmas is a badge of honor for many NBA teams, a chance to partake in the league's biggest one-day showcase. But these Celtics aren't complaining about being out of the national spotlight for one season.
First-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the break is a chance "to sit back and reflect on how fortunate we are and how lucky we are to do what we do. The chance to compete and coach and play together, to me, it's another season and a reason to be thankful.
"I certainly would love for the Celtics to be playing on Christmas Day, but I don't think anybody in [the Celtics organization] is going to mind being with their family and taking the day for the real reason of why we're doing it and spending time together."
Gerald Wallace is back in his native Alabama, somewhere he hasn't spent Christmas since he was a 17-year-old senior at Childersburg High School. Five NBA teams (Sacramento, Charlotte, Portland, Brooklyn, Boston), a total of 839 games (between college and the pros), four children (Daryn, Malliyah, Mya and Kennedy) and what must feel like a lifetime later, the 31-year-old Wallace finally has the chance to head home for the holidays.
"It's going to be exciting," Wallace said. "I haven't been home in a while, and I get to see family and friends around the holidays, spend time with my kids. I'm going to enjoy it."
It's been eight years since Courtney Lee has been home to Indianapolis for the holidays. He had a very short trip after Sunday's loss to the Pacers in his hometown. The 28-year-old understands that not being home this time of year is part of the job.
"It's tough, but as you get older, you start to understand that everybody has jobs that they have to do, and part of my job is playing on Christmas or practicing on Christmas," Lee said. "That just comes with the territory. Like I said, it's going to be good to be able to get back and see [family and friends]."
Lee said while most are opening presents on Christmas morning, he'll likely trek to a nearby gymnasium to get in his workout so he can enjoy the rest of the day.
"I probably won't be like the younger kids up in the morning because they're excited about getting gifts, but I'll probably beat everybody else going to the gym," Lee said. "I'll try to get in an hour or two of shooting, just a little conditioning. Nothing too crazy. I'm still going to enjoy my break."
"First of all, he didn't take us Christmas shopping because he didn't get us anything," Lee quipped. "We all went Christmas shopping while we were out in New York. That's what we do. When we're on the road, we all go out to dinner with a couple other guys and, if it's a spot like New York, we go shopping for a little bit. We were able to help Avery out with getting gifts for his girlfriend and family."
Bradley detailed in his latest ESPN Boston diary how Lee and Green helped him find the perfect gift for his girlfriend, no easy task.
"I gave him the hint on something dope for his girl, but I can't say what it is because she might be paying attention to his diary and find out what she got for Christmas," Lee said. "But she's going to be happy."
Even Stevens plans to dial things back the next few days. While he's promised to have a practice plan ready to go for Thursday, he will immerse himself in family time during the break. It's been a whirlwind five months for Stevens since being hired July 3, and 29 games in 54 days to start his first NBA regular season has ensured there's been no let-up, even as he gets settled.
Stevens, another Indianapolis native, visited with friends and family there Monday, putting that pesky game with the Pacers behind him. The family will stay in the Midwest but make about a five-hour trek on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with Stevens' in-laws.
If Stevens has his way, the Celtics will be quite busy on Christmas in the future. He's not getting used to this sort of break in the NBA and knows future Christmas mornings will be spent in random hotel rooms across the country.
But for one season, the Celtics get the gift of being home.