The moment Al Horford’s name was added to the Boston Celtics injury report citing health and safety protocols, questions were raised about a potential return date for the veteran big man and what that meant for the Celtics moving forward in the Eastern Conference Finals.
However, according to ESPN’S Brian Windhorst, the Celtics have been concerned about this outcome over the last week, as numerous members of the team’s “traveling party” have tested positive for COVID in recent days.
“A huge curveball ahead of a major series like this. Al Horford has been in the protocols three times this season, once in the pre-season, once in December, and now. Just because he’s in the protocols doesn’t mean he’s tested positive, but that was the indication yesterday (Tuesday, May 17). The Celtics have had multiple positives in their traveling party in this past week, so there has been some concern about this,” Windhorst said on a recent episode of Get Up.
Without Al Horford and Marcus Smart in their rotation, the Celtics fell in defeat in their opening game against the Miami Heat, courtesy of an abysmal third quarter.
Luckily, Smart’s injury isn’t COVID-related, so he isn’t bound by the health and safety protocols. However, there is still no clear timeframe on when Horford could potentially return to the lineup. And, if Windhorst is correct that Horford has shown symptoms, he could be missing until the latter part of the conference finals.
More concerning is that the Omicron variant is known to spread much quicker than previous variants. If Horford has contracted that straon, there’s potentially a chance other players will test positive in the coming days - although that is a worst-case scenario.
Horford has been an integral piece of the Celtics rotation this season and has been exceptional during the post-season, providing his team with much-needed floor spacing, high-level defense, and the all-important veteran leadership that the team had been missing in recent seasons. Throughout his 11 playoff games, Horford is averaging 13 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game while shooting 52.4% from the field and 45.1% from deep.
Until Horford returns to the rotation, we can expect Daniel Theis to continue filling the gaps, but against a team that boasts Bam Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon, the Celtics will need Horford’s defensive versatility if they want to avoid the risk of this series heading to a Game 7.
Boston will be looking to even the series when they face the Miami Heat again on Thursday, May 19 at 8:30 pm EST.