Al Horford, Marcus Smart injury updates: Celtics without two key players for Game 1 vs Heat

Al Horford, Marcus Smart injury updates: Celtics without two key players for Game 1 vs Heat

The Boston Celtics will enter the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat without two starters after announcing that Marcus Smart and Al Horford would be out for Game 1 on Tuesday night. Smart was already listed as questionable after sustaining a midfoot sprain in Sunday’s Game 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the previous round, so there was still a 50/50 chance he could adapt. Horford will be sidelined after being placed under the league’s COVID health and safety protocols.

Smart underwent an MRI on his right foot on Monday and the imaging came back clean, by ESPN, which is encouraging news for the Celtics in the long run. But being without the defensive mainstay isn’t a great place to be right now.

Smart, who was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year a few weeks ago, was integral to Boston’s victory over the Bucks in the second round of the playoffs. In Game 6, he had 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while being a defensive pest to help extend the streak for the Celtics. He followed that up with a performance of 11 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in Game 7, and finished the game with a plus-18. Smart’s defense is the glue that helps hold Boston’s defense together, and while he doesn’t put up monster offensive numbers, his passing is a necessity for the Celtics. He helps keep the ball moving if Boston gets too stagnant and does a great job of setting his teammates up for a good look. His 39.4 percent mark from 3-point range was also an additional weapon the Celtics used against the Bucks.

Celtics coach Ime Udoka said in a shootout on Tuesday that Smart had tested the foot, but some pain remained.

“Yeah, he’s still pretty sore,” Udoka mentioned. “He’s had a bit of a test here and we’re hoping he’s feeling better, but there’s pain here, some swelling still, and we’ll be monitoring him throughout the day, getting treatment, and it will still be listed as questionable.”

Being without Smart has always been a possibility for the Celtics, but news of Horford being sidelined due to health and safety protocols is a blow to Boston. These two guys are arguably the most important to Boston’s defense, and Horford’s offensive production was key to Boston’s Game 4 road win over the Bucks in the second round.

ESPN reports that Boston is also willing to do without Horford for Thursday’s Game 2 at Miami if the big man can’t clear the protocols in time.

With those two key players out, it will put more of the onus on guys like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and others to step up defensively.

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