Celtics fans had every right to feel a little nervous when forward Al Horford, the team’s beloved anchor, paid a visit to the locker room midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s Celtics-Hawks game.
A significant flare-up of the knee pain that plagued Horford earlier this season would have been a major blow to Boston’s efforts to establish some consistency throughout the end of the regular season and enter the playoffs on a high note. After two brief stints on the stationary bike, however, the five-time All-Star ultimately returned to the floor — eliciting a collective sigh of relief.
Following the final buzzer, Horford reassured reporters he is, in fact, OK. He finished with nine points on 3-for-8 shooting, six rebounds, and three assists in 28 minutes.
“I just bumped knees at the end of the half,” Horford said of his absence.
Horford, who missed a stretch of games earlier this season due to patellofemoral pain syndrome, said the pain he felt Saturday was unrelated to his previous diagnosis. The 32-year-old maintained his knee is feeling “fine.”
Coach Brad Stevens said he asked Horford, ‘Are you sure?’ three times before substituting him back into the game. He told reporters the team had already developed a plan to provide Horford with some rest ahead of the postseason. According to the Stevens, Horford will miss three or four of Boston’s 12 remaining games for precautionary reasons.
When Horford is inactive, the team will likely turn to centers Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis. Though Horford provides a much-needed sense of stability for the mercurial group, Stevens noted navigating the lineup without Horford is not a particularly difficult process.
“As a coach, it’s pretty easy,” he said. “Whoever is available plays.”
Up next for the Celtics are the Denver Nuggets — the latest home for former Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas, who has also played for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers since getting traded from Boston in August 2017, tweeted Friday he is looking forward to returning to TD Garden.
Can’t wait to get back to Boston in a few days! That LOVE is unconditional….
— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) March 15, 2019
The feelings are certainly mutual.
“It’s going to feel good to see him,” shooting guard Marcus Smart said. “I’m really good friends with Isaiah, just like a lot of guys. For him to have the career he’s had, and then go through the [hip] injury that he through and everything else after that, you don’t wish that upon any player, especially of his caliber. It will be good to see him and, hopefully, he gets the love he deserves.”
“One of the things I always admire about Isaiah is his heart,” added Horford, who said Thomas was one of the reasons why he signed with Boston as a free agent in 2016. “He’s a good guy off the court, but on the floor, he’s leaving it all out there. Doesn’t matter if he was hurt or something was wrong, he’s a guy that loves to compete, plays hard, plays to win.”
Thomas has appeared in nine games with the Nuggets, though he doesn’t appear to be part of coach Michael Malone’s rotation moving forward. Because he signed a one-year deal at the veteran’s minimum, he will become a free agent this summer.
Kyrie still can’t shake Calderon
Every so often Kyrie Irving will tell the story of his first-ever NBA game, when Jose Calderon, then a member of the Toronto Raptors, roasted him for 15 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds. Irving, then a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, tallied six points on 2-for-12 shooting and seven assists in the losing effort.
“You come into the league and you got people like Jose Calderon, who busted my ass,” Irving said, laughing. “I still can’t believe that s***. I just couldn’t believe it. … I was like, ‘Jose Calderon?'”
Irving has previously shared the tale multiple times, most recently on the “Knuckleheads” podcast with Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles.
“I held on to that, and every time I see [Calderon], to this day, I’m still going at him,” Irving said.