The COVID specter and illness continue to be a factor in the Eastern Conference Finals series between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.
A day after Celtics big man Al Horford entered NBA health and safety protocols, Boston coach Ime Udoka was unavailable for his team’s media briefing on Wednesday due to what the Celtics declared to be a non-COVID disease.
However, lingering concerns over the pandemic continue to impact the NBA playoffs for a third straight year, with the Heat returning to an all-media mask mandate during Wednesday’s interview session.
Additionally, it is believed that ESPN will now conduct pre-match practice interviews remotely.
Horford, starting Wednesday, was not expected to be available for Thursday’s Game 2 at 8:30 a.m. and the FTX Arena, officially listed as questionable by the Celtics.
It’s not the scenario Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had hoped for at this point in the pandemic.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “It’s like every time you think it goes beyond that, it doesn’t.”
This made him sympathize with the Celtics.
“You want to beat their best with our best,” he said. “That’s just not the world we live in.”
Heat guard Tyler Herro said Wednesday that the return of COVID and illness is just a sign of the times.
“I mean, you just control what you can control,” he said. “There’s a lot of disease going around, but you just try to stay away and hope everything goes well, I guess.”
While the Celtics offered no update on Horford, guard Marcus Smart, the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, was promoted Thursday likely for a return from the midfoot sprain that left him brought out for Tuesday’s series-opening win.
“Obviously he’s Defensive Player of the Year,” Herro said, “so having him on the floor obviously brings presence on that side of the ball. He’s a terrific player, so the the fact that he’s there, of course, changes things a bit.
Herro said a return from Horford would be similar to a series change whenever it happened.
“I mean, both being back, that’s two of their five starters,” he said. “Being at full strength, I’m sure they’ll be a bit more confident. And we’ll see when these guys come back.
Additionally, Celtics guard Sam Hauser remains out due to right shoulder instability.
For the Heat, point guard Kyle Lowry stays out with a hamstring strain, listed as an out, to miss his eighth game in the last 10.
Spoelstra said Lowry was limited to light shooting on Wednesday, with the Heat limited in their court time.
“I don’t have a new update,” he said.
Yes, Herro said, he was surprised that the Heat rally anthem of “Pepas” was played with plenty of time remaining on Tuesday, perhaps a little prematurely.
“It did,” he said. “I thought that. I think it was like four minutes on the clock.
The Heat led by 13 with 3:18 remaining, with their lead later reduced to seven with 1:28 remaining.
Spoelstra said he was unaware of the premature Pepas, but admitted he was unaware of a significant part of the Pepas phenomenon at the FTX Arena.
“You know what? I didn’t notice it [Tuesday] night,” Spoelstra said. “And it took about five games during the regular season to realize when our players were all fired up in huddle, and I look around like ‘focus’. And then everyone told me to get out head from the sand. And I realized what it was.
“I didn’t even know it was played [Tuesday] night. At that time, I thought the game was very much in play.”
He then smiled and added, “I will speak to the appropriate people.”