Boston missed Marcus Smart most at the start of the third quarter, when the Celtics didn’t score a bucket for 7:07 in the face of a Heat defense that cranked up its intensity and physicality. Smart and veteran Al Horford are the voices that calm the Celtics in those moments, focus the team and right the ship. Instead, Miami started the second half on a 22-2 run, and by the end of the third quarter the game was functionally over.
Smart hopes to have recovered from a sprained foot enough to be back for Game 2 on Thursday, according to a new report from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. However, Horford — who tested positive for COVID and is in health and safety protocols — is not expected to be cleared to play by then.
The Boston Celtics do not anticipate Al Horford being cleared from health and safety protocols prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday, league sources told Yahoo Sports…
Smart is aiming for a return in Game 2, sources said, but it is dependent on how his foot responds to treatment over the next 36 hours.
That is not a guarantee Smart suits up — of course he wants and aims to play — but it’s a positive sign that he is at least close enough that a return is on the table.
Smart injured his foot late in the first quarter of Game 7 against the Bucks when Giannis Antetokounmpo drove the lane and was tripped, but Smart already had lept to try and contest his shot, and a stumbling Antetokounmpo took out Smart’s legs. While the focus at the time was on Smart’s wrist, he sprained his foot on that play as well.
Tuesday night, Jimmy Butler dominated the third quarter on his way to scoring 41 points for the Heat. Smart, the Defensive Player of the Year, would draw the Butler assignment for long stretches and can handle the physicality of the Heat star the way few others can.
Boston needs a bounce-back effort Thursday night or they face the prospect of heading home down 0-2 to the top seed in the East. The return of Smart would be a big boost in that effort for the Celtics, if his foot is healthy enough to go.