MEMPHIS – With only one game left in the regular season, there is still a possibility that the Celtics will face the Raptors in the opening round of the playoffs, raising questions about whether the Canadian COVID-19 vaccine mandate could sideline any of their players for games there.
But striker Al Horford, who missed the team’s game in Toronto on March 28 for personal reasons, told The Globe he had received a full vaccination and would be eligible to play in Toronto. Horford previously said he would be “ready to play anywhere,” but he hasn’t shared his vaccination status.
Unvaccinated foreign nationals are currently prohibited from entering Canada, banning players from playing against the Raptors in their home arena.
Horford said he was aware that his absence from the last Toronto game made some question his future availability, but added that he would be able to play. This remains a personal matter for the players, he said, declining to go into further details but stressing that he has been vaccinated and that the mandate will not affect him.
“It’s something I didn’t want to discuss,” Horford said. “I think with the Celtics we’ve made it clear that we’re not going to discuss these things, and it’s a health issue, and we all respect everyone’s views. That’s why I’m not going to go into it and talk about it. But I’m ready to go.”
Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown were the other healthy Celtics who missed their last Toronto game. Tatum, who has contracted COVID-19 twice, said multiple times that he has been fully vaccinated.
Brown was asked about his situation after the Wizards game on April 3, and he said that after missing the playoffs last season with a wrist injury, he was ready to play against anyone. But he declined to say he had been vaccinated and said that as the vice president of the NBA Players Association, he would not comment on his or anyone else’s vaccination status.
The Celtics (50-31) Friday night entered third in the Eastern Conference, half a game behind the Bucks and half a game ahead of the 76. The Milwaukee face the Pistons on Friday before ending the season against the Cavaliers Sunday. The 76ers face the Pacers on Saturday and the Pistons on Sunday. The Celtics have a tiebreak against the Bucks and Safety 76ers.
The Raptors, meanwhile, are fifth, two games behind the sixth-place Bulls. They will almost certainly stay in that slot, so the Celtics will avoid a first-round showdown against Toronto by simply staying above fourth.
Horford (back) and Tatum (knee) sat out Thursday’s loss to the Bucks, mostly for maintenance reasons. But coach Aimee Odoka said he would like all of his top players to have a long stint against Memphis on Sunday, especially since it will be followed by a one-week break in the championship. The Grizzlies are booked into second place in the West, so they wouldn’t have any motivation to play their best at wide, and All-Star goalkeeper Ja Morant is still out with a knee injury.
The good news for the Celtics is that they will have a much better idea of their fate by the time they come out against Memphis. The Bucks’ season will be over by then, and the 76ers will be out of their final game.
Horford said he couldn’t remember a time when the cut-off photo was cloudy late in the season. But everything will be revealed soon.
“At this time of year, you’re curious, and you definitely want to know,” Horford said. “But the only thing we can control is to keep improving ourselves. It’s in the back of everyone’s mind but we can’t worry about that at the end of the day. We have to deal with our business.”
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