MIAMI – The Boston Celtics are closer to whole for the Eastern Conference finals.
Al Horford's stay in the NBA's health and safety protocols ended Thursday, a few hours before tipoff of Game 2 of the series against the Miami Heat. And Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart's mid-foot sprain improved enough to compel the Celtics to put him back in the lineup.
Horford missed Game 1 because of those protocols, related to the coronavirus, and Smart also missed the series opener because of the foot injury. But Smart went through a shootaround practice Thursday morning, and since there was no setback he was deemed good to go.
“Happy to have two of our starting five back," Celtics coach Ime Udoka said, adding that both are “full go."
The Celtics never released specifics of Horford's situation, but given that he was in the protocols and required additional testing, his absence Tuesday almost certainly stemmed from a test result. If he actually did test positive — and the Celtics, per team policy, never said that was the case — Horford would have needed to have returned two negative PCR tests sampled at least 24 hours apart in order to escape the protocols as quickly as he did.
“He was feeling fine from the get-go," Udoka said.
Miami had been game-planning for both Horford and Smart to be in the Boston lineup.
“The is the team that we were preparing for for Game 1," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It's good. You don’t want anybody out due to testing or an injury. We don’t want to duck any kind of competition."
Derrick White, who started and played 29 minutes in Boston’s 118-107 loss in Game 1 on Tuesday, will not play in Game 2. He left Miami early because of the looming birth of a child.
“You don't want to say it's a tough situation. We knew he was expecting a baby soon," Udoka said. “Things happen in life and we always support our guys."
Smart's foot injury happened in Game 7 of the East semifinals against Milwaukee on Sunday. He tried to get ready in time to play Game 1 on Tuesday, to no avail.
“He looked good," Celtics guard Grant Williams said after the team's Thursday shootaround practice.
Horford was in the protocols for the third time this season. He missed the Celtics’ regular-season opener, then missed five more games in December, and was ruled out of Game 1 just a couple of hours before tipoff.
“We weren’t prepared to be playing without Al,” Boston center Daniel Theis said.
Miami will be without Kyle Lowry for the eighth time in its last 10 playoff games while he continues recovering from a hamstring strain. The Heat listed backcourt starters Gabe Vincent — Lowry’s replacement — and Max Strus as questionable for Game 2 with hamstring issues of their own, but both were available to play.
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