Sources: Marcus Smart aiming for East finals Game 2 return; Al Horford unlikely
MIAMI — The Boston Celtics do not anticipate Al Horford being cleared from health and safety protocols prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
There is a minuscule path in which the veteran big man could fulfill the necessary steps for clearance, but sources maintain it’s highly unlikely.
In Horford’s absence and with Marcus Smart sidelined with a right foot sprain, the Miami Heat took a 118-107 Game 1 win Tuesday night.
Smart is aiming for a return in Game 2, sources said, but it is dependent on how his foot responds to treatment over the next 36 hours. With Boston missing two starters who do the bulk of the dirty work, the Heat feasted.
“We got out-toughed, out-physical,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “They came out in the second half and wanted to up their physicality and aggression on both ends and they did that.”
Horford has been a central component of the Celtics’ postseason run, positioning the franchise to a legitimate championship contender during this stretch.
Udoka said he found out his starting center tested positive for COVID-19 four hours before tip.
“Obviously, we weren’t prepared to be without Al,” guard Jaylen Brown said after the game. “We definitely wasn’t prepared to be without Al and Smart. So, it’s not an excuse. We got to be better.”
The league no longer requires mandatory testing of fully vaccinated players. Horford has said he is vaccinated.
Udoka said Horford is feeling fine, but if a player can request to be tested if they’re feeling ill or have another reason to know.
Players have been hesitant to seek out a test out of fear that a positive test result could remove them from crucial playoff games.
The Celtics outscored the Heat in every quarter with exception of the third, which was a lopsided 39-14 period in favor of the home team. Jimmy Butler continued his scoring outbursts, exploding for a game-high 41 points on an efficient 12-of-19 shooting to go with nine boards, five assists, four steals and three blocks.
Smart’s presence will be needed to slow down Butler. The newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year will likely return before Horford.
Boston finds itself in a tough predicament, but they’re confident they can find a solution to leave Miami with a split.
“Throughout the course of the playoffs, we’ve done a great job responding to runs after we call a timeout. But for whatever reason we didn’t today and I’ll be the first one to say I’ll take the blame for that,” Jayson Tatum said. “I got to lead better, I got to play better, especially in those moments and I’m just looking forward to responding next game.”