The Boston Celtics will be starting their Eastern Conference Finals battle with the Miami Heat by putting their worst foot forward. The team will be without two key starters in Marcus Smart and Al Horford, who have both been ruled out of the contest due to injury.
Uh oh. Al Horford is out in COVID protocol. Marcus Smart out too.— Bobby Manning (@RealBobManning) May 17, 2022
In an unfortunate turn of events, Al Horford has entered into health and safety protocols, muddying the waters of an initial return date for the veteran big man; however, if Horford has begun to display symptoms of COVID-19, he could miss a significant portion of the series.
According to the Celtics injury report, Smart is out due to a right mid-foot sprain, which he sustained during the first quarter of Boston’s Game 7 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics had waited until the last minute to decide on Smart’s availability for their opening game against the Heat. Still, it would appear that he’s been unable to make enough progress in his recovery, given the short turnaround time between games.
“He tested out a little bit here and we’re hoping he’s feeling better. But some soreness there, some swelling, and we’ll monitor him throughout the day. Get some treatment and still be listed as questionable.” Ime Udoka told Masslive’s Souichi Terada, “The swelling is there, the soreness is there, but we hope he has good treatment and we’ll see how it goes. It’s still sore. But he has a long day, an extra hour or two, and we’ll see how he feels. Legitimately questionable.”
Horford has been an integral member of the Celtics rotation throughout the playoffs and rose to the fore against the Bucks. He rolled back the clock to provide exceptional defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo and two back-to-back high-scoring performances. In his 11 post-season games, Horford has averaged 13 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists on 52.4% shooting from the field and 45.1% shooting from deep.
One of Boston's biggest differences this time around vs the 2020 series was that Al Horford would give them a much better matchup vs Bam Adebayo than Daniel Theis did.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) May 17, 2022
That's removed now, for presumably at least a decent chunk of this series.
Of course, Smart has been no slouch either and has become a core member of the team's offense thanks to his vastly improved passing and shot selection. Despite a turbulent end to Game 5 of the second round, Smart has provided a consistent contribution on both ends of the floor and is averaging 15 points, 6.2 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game while shooting the rock at a 41.6% clip.
When facing a unit that consists of Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, and Tyler Herro, it is never ideal to be without two of your best defenders. The only solace Celtics fans can take from this news is that Kyle Lowry will also be missing from this opening game battle.
Miami and Boston will tip-off at 8:30 pm EST as they begin to do battle for the chance to compete in the NBA Finals - a task Boston will relish following Miami’s success at the same juncture of the post-season back in the bubble.