CHICAGO — The Celtics have avoided a second slice of damage with Al Horford being removed from the NBA’s health and safety protocols and made available for tonight’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals in Miami.
Though a larger decision was still miles away, the league is thus spared a scenario it clearly hopes to never again confront.
There were some interesting questions being raised among the coaches and team executives from around the NBA here at the league’s annual draft combine after Horford had to miss the series opener. Most notably: What would happen if more Celtics caught COVID and the club (or any remaining playoff team) couldn’t put a competitive team — or enough players — on the floor?
Sources confirmed that a number of people on the Celtics’ support staff have tested positive for COVID-19 recently — and also that Horford spoke after a game with another person who subsequently tested positive.
With vaccinated players not subject to regular COVID testing, some on social media and elsewhere have alleged (or presumed) that Horford was checked because he had yet to get the shot(s). But sources close to the situation insisted to Heavy.com that Horford has indeed been administered the vaccine and that he was tested as a close contact of those who contracted the virus.
Concerns Linger Across the NBA
After holding the 2020 postseason in the Orlando Bubble and the next year playing a delayed and shortened 72-game schedule that didn’t crown a champion until July 20, the league has made it this far through the 2021-22 campaign with fingers collectively crossed.
In and of itself, the Horford situation was not alarming. The Celtic big man had no symptoms, and he was far from the first player to be forced to miss a game because of the protocols — protocols that, importantly, have been designed to prevent isolated cases from becoming a larger outbreak.
The league has therefore had relatively little to worry over, and Horford’s case — once it was found to be isolated among those on the active roster — certainly didn’t set off any sirens. But as he and other Celtics underwent tests, there were very likely some anxious moments around the club.
“That had to be a little scary,” said one rival coach, here to scout potential draftees. “One minute you’re winning Game 7 and the next you’re wondering who you’re going to put on the floor in the conference finals.”
Again, the league hasn’t had to confront the more serious contingencies during these playoffs, such as postponement of games or what would have to happen if a club struggled to fill out a rotation. Several regular season games had to be rescheduled because of COVID issues, but all 30 teams wound up playing their full slate.
NBA Responds to Heavy.com
Contacted this morning, the NBA didn’t get into hypotheticals regarding this critical portion of its calendar, choosing instead to note how its policies have gotten it this far.
“We continue to consult with doctors, infectious disease specialists, and epidemiologists on COVID-19 cases that arise and are prepared to do what is necessary to keep our teams and players safe and healthy,” a league spokesperson told Heavy.com.
“That said, we are comfortable with the current health and safety protocols that we have in place with the Players Association and are hopeful we’ll be able to complete the postseason and crown a champion, as we did each of the last two years, without any schedule changes.”
Said one league exec here, “Obviously the health of the people involved is the most important thing. But this is also a big time for the TV partners, and the viewer numbers have been great. Then again, I think everybody’s just relieved that what’s out there now for COVID isn’t as dangerous as it was at the start.”