A potentially seismic change hit the Eastern Conference Finals less than three hours before the start of Game 1 on Tuesday night at the FTX Arena, when the Boston Celtics announced forward Al Horford had entered the protocols of NBA Health and Safety and would be out for the series opener against the Miami Heat.
The designation not only kicked Horford out for the Tuesday start of the best-of-seven series, but also, based on the quarantine required by the NBA in such cases, possibly for Game 2 on Thursday night at the FTX. Arena and Saturday’s Game 3 at TD Garden.
“We discovered Al about two hours ago,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said less than two hours before the whistleblower.
Udoka indicated that upcoming test results could impact the timing of a Horford return.
“He’s feeling good,” Udoka said, “and we’ll go from there, waiting to see the test results and future tests.”
Udoka said he was not aware of any contact tracing issues with other team members.
This is the third time this season that Horford, 35, has entered NBA protocols.
Additionally, the Celtics announced that a second starter, point guard Marcus Smart, will miss the series opener due to the sprained right midfoot suffered in Sunday’s Game 7 win over the Celtics. Visiting Milwaukee Bucks who propelled them to the Eastern Finals against the Heat. .
Smart was listed as questionable earlier today. Horford had not appeared on the Celtics injury report until he was listed as an absentee.
“The pain was too much,” Udoka said of Smart’s injury, “still swelling and limited basketball moves he couldn’t do.”
Derrick White was Smart’s replacement starter, with recently injured Robert Williams returning to the roster in Boston’s power rotation.
“I feel like this is the world we’ve been living in for a long time, certainly this year,” Spoelstra said of the lingering uncertainties amid the pandemic, “Every team has experience managing of that.”
Or working on the fly with evolving rosters on both sides, Spoelstra said, “It’s become normal preparation: expect the unexpected.”
For the Heat, guard Kyle Lowry stayed out with a strained left hamstring, despite being on the field for the pre-game shot. It’s the seventh time in the last nine games that Lowry has been sidelined by the hamstring.
Four Heat players had been listed as questionable earlier on Tuesday but were later cleared to play: Caleb Martin (sprained ankle), Max Strus (sprained hamstring), PJ Tucker (sprained calf) and Gabe Vincent (hamstring sprain).
Earlier, Spoelstra said during the morning shootout that his team was ready for an extended challenge, stressing that the smallest things can make the biggest difference.
“They’re big, those moments in between, the games in between, the ball in the air, the ball on the ground,” he said. “I’m sure they’re saying the same thing. You have two teams that are proud of it, so it should be very competitive between the lines.
“And both teams do it in a way that is not overdone. It’s just about doing whatever it takes to achieve victory. »
Heat guard Tyler Herro said he appreciated it was time to dig defensively.
“I think both teams, everyone knows how good we are on that side of the ball,” he said. “I think anybody can get the backup buckets in transition, a few buckets here or there, that don’t come from set plays and things like that, I think anybody can get those in-between possessions, I think will have an advantage all the way. long series.”
All without giving up any defensive element.
“I mean, that’s who we are, since I came here three years ago,” he said. “We were always old school that way. We are ready to score 120, but we can also play a game in the 90s.”
Heat center Bam Adebayo said the team were savoring, but not overtaking, the moment.
“We’re just enjoying our moment,” he said. “For the most part, we keep our heads down, keeping the basics as the essentials.”
The series is not only a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Finals of the teams the Heat won 4-2, but also a reunion for Adebayo with USA Basketball gold medalist Olympic teammate Jayson Tatum.
“Since playing against him, I know his tendencies,” Adebayo said. “The Olympic team is totally different. But just knowing your tendencies is basically that.
For all stories, Herro said what cannot be lost is the importance of the moment.
“That’s what you want as a competitor,” he said. “As a basketball player growing up, that’s all you could ask for, to be in a game like this.”