MEMPHIS — With just one game left in the regular season, there remains a possibility that the Celtics could face the Raptors in the opening round of the playoffs, raising questions about whether Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate could sideline any of their players for games there.
But forward Al Horford, who missed the team’s game in Toronto March 28 because of personal reasons, told the Globe he is fully vaccinated and would be eligible to play in Toronto. Horford previously said he would be “ready to play wherever,” but did not share his vaccination status.
Unvaccinated foreign nationals are currently prohibited from entering Canada, which prevents players from playing against the Raptors in their home arena .
Horford said he was aware that his absence from the recent Toronto game made some wonder about his future availability, but added that he would be able to play. He said this remains a personal matter for the players, and he declined to go into further detail but he stressed he is vaccinated and that the mandate would not affect him.
“It’s something I haven’t wanted to discuss,” Horford said. “I think with the Celtics, we made it clear we’re not going to discuss those things, and it’s a health matter, and we all respect everybody’s individual perspectives. That’s why I’m not going to get into it and talk about it. But I’m ready to go.”
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were the other healthy Celtics who missed the last Toronto game. Tatum, who has had COVID-19 twice, has said several times he is fully vaccinated.
Brown was asked about his status following the Wizards game April 3 and said that after missing last season’s playoffs because of a wrist injury, he was ready to play against anybody. But he stopped short of saying he was vaccinated and said as a vice president of the NBA’s players association he would not comment on his vaccination status or anyone else’s.
The Celtics (50-31) entered Friday night in third place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind the Bucks and a half-game ahead of the 76ers. Milwaukee faces the Pistons Friday before finishing the season against the Cavaliers Sunday. The 76ers face the Pacers Saturday and the Pistons Sunday. The Celtics hold tiebreakers against both the Bucks and 76ers.
The Raptors, meanwhile, are in fifth place, two games ahead of the sixth-place Bulls. They are almost certain to stay in that slot, so the Celtics would avoid a first-round matchup against Toronto by simply staying above fourth place.
Horford (back) and Tatum (knee) sat out Thursday’s loss to the Bucks, mostly for maintenance reasons. But coach Ime Udoka said he would like all of his top players to get an extended run against Memphis Sunday, especially because it will be followed by a one-week break for the play-in tournament. The Grizzlies are locked into the No. 2 slot in the West, so they won’t have any motivation to play their top players extensively, and All-Star guard Ja Morant remains 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 tip off against Memphis. The Bucks’ season will be over by then, and the 76ers will be tipping off their final game.
Horford said he could not recall a time when the playoff picture was this cloudy this late in the season. But all will be revealed soon.
“At this time of year, you’re curious, you definitely want to know,” Horford said. “But the only thing we can control is continuing to get better ourselves. It’s in the back of everybody’s mind but we can’t worry about that at the end of the day. We have to handle our business.”