Marcus Smart targets Game 2 return; Al Horford unlikely

MIAMI — The Boston Celtics do not anticipate Al Horford being cleared of health and safety protocols before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

There is a tiny way in which the veteran big man could go through the necessary steps for clearance, but sources say that is highly unlikely.

With Horford absent and Marcus Smart sidelined with a sprained right foot, the Miami Heat won Game 1 118-107 on Tuesday night.

Smart is aiming for a Game 2 comeback, sources said, but it depends on how his foot responds to treatment over the next 36 hours. With Boston without two starters to do most of the dirty work, the Heat had a feast.

“We got tougher, more physical,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “They came out in the second half and wanted to improve their physicality and aggression at both ends and they did.”

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart watches from the sidelines during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat on May 17, 2022 in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Horford has been a central component of the Celtics’ postseason run, positioning the franchise as a legitimate championship contender during this stretch.

Udoka said he found out his starting center tested positive for COVID-19 four hours before the forecast.

“Obviously we weren’t prepared to be without Al,” guard Jaylen Brown said after the game. “We definitely weren’t prepared to be without Al and Smart. So it’s not an excuse. We have to be better.”

The league no longer requires mandatory testing of fully vaccinated players. Horford has said that he is vaccinated.

Udoka said Horford is feeling fine, but if a player can request to be tested if they feel sick or have another reason to know.

Players have been hesitant to seek testing out of fear that a positive test result could eliminate them from crucial playoff games.

The Celtics outscored the Heat in every quarter except the third, which was a lopsided 39-14 period in favor of the home team. Jimmy Butler continued his scoring outbursts, exploding with a game-high 41 points on an efficient 12-of-19 shooting to complete nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.

It will take Smart’s presence to stop Butler. The newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year will likely return before Horford.

Boston is in a tough spot, but they are confident they can find a solution to leave Miami with a split.

“Throughout the playoffs, we’ve done a great job responding to runs after we called a timeout. But for some reason we didn’t do it today and I’ll be the first to say I’ll take the blame for that,” Jayson Tatum said. “I have to lead better, I have to play better, especially in those moments and I’m looking forward to answering the next game.”

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