By TIM REYNOLDS AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI (AP) — Marcus Smart is hoping to play. Al Horford is trying to return. And Derrick White headed home early, for a very good reason.
The Boston Celtics were hoping to have at least one of their missing starters back for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night. Smart’s mid-foot sprain has improved to the point where the Celtics are expecting he can play in the series’ second game against the Miami Heat.
Horford, as of Thursday afternoon, remained in the NBA’s health and safety protocols and the Celtics were bracing for him to miss a second consecutive game. But there was good news from a Boston perspective — Thursday afternoon, Horford’s status was upgraded from doubtful to questionable, adding more hope that he could play in Game 2.
“We’re unsure about his status until some testing results come back,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said about an hour before Horford’s chances to play were upgraded.
And White, who started and played 29 minutes in Boston’s 118-107 loss in Game 1 to Miami 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 is the league’s reigning defensive player of the year. The 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 morning shootaround practice.
Horford is 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 hours before tipoff.
“We weren’t prepared to be playing without Al,” Celtics center Daniel Theis said.
Also Thursday, the Celtics had their coach back. Udoka missed a scheduled media session Wednesday with what the team described as a non-COVID illness but said he was good on Thursday.
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 planning to play.
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