INDIANAPOLIS — Former Celtics forward Al Horford will return to Boston Thursday for the first time since opting out of the final year of his contract to sign a four-year, $109 million deal with the rival 76ers last summer.
Even though Kyrie Irving did not even come to Boston when his Nets faced the Celtics last month, fans derided him with negative chants throughout the game anyway. The reception for Horford figures to be considerably tamer, though, and Celtics forward Jaylen Brown thinks it should be positive
“I think he should be celebrated, in my opinion,” Brown said after the Celtics’ 122-117 loss to the Pacers on Wednesday. “Boston fans, they’re going to do what they want regardless, but Al came here and contributed, took this team the farthest it’s been since [making the Finals in 2010]. I think Al served his time well here. For me, he was a great leader, a great person to carry us every step of the way, so I know I’ll clap for him when they call his name.”
Horford is averaging 13.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game for Philadelphia this season.
Ever since Brad Stevens was hired to coach the Celtics in 2013, he has been greeted quite warmly when returning home to Indiana to face the Pacers. The local interest in the Celtics swelled after another Indiana native, Gordon Hayward, signed with Boston three years ago, and on Wednesday night, the homecomings continued.
Celtics rookie Romeo Langford is a native of New Albany and was the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2018 before spending one season at Indiana, and rookie Carsen Edwards played for nearby Purdue for three seasons.
“It’s a lot of fond memories being here,” Langford said. “It’s nice to be back on familiar ground and just nice to be here to be able to have people that grew up watching me play be able to come back and see me again.”
Langford said a small number of family members would be in attendance, but there was a large contingent of supporters from his high school and his city, which sits about 100 miles south of Indianapolis. He was cleared to play on Wednesday after missing the last two weeks with a sprained ankle.
Edwards is from Texas, so his roots here are not as deep. But he was a breakout star during last season’s NCAA tournament, when he helped guide Purdue to the brink of the Final Four. The Boilermakers played a game at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in each of Edwards’s three seasons with the team.
“It’s cool to think that I wanted to play here again one day, and be playing for an NBA team,” Edwards said. “So it’s cool to be back like this.”
Smart, Williams out
Marcus Smart missed his second game in a row Wednesday because of an eye infection and illness, and Robert Williams sat out for the second game in a row because of a sore hip.
The Celtics had been hopeful earlier in the day that Smart would be able to suit up, but his vision became a bit blurry as the day progressed. He is likely to return soon.
The extent of Williams’s injury, meanwhile, is a bit more unclear.
“They’re still doing some extra testing and looking at him,” Stevens said. “He went through a couple of different things. We left him back in Boston. I don’t know if that’s going to be near-term or he’s going to miss some time here. I’m still waiting for a final word on that. But he’s had that hip soreness that’s continued and a routine checkup said let’s make sure this is going in the right direction before we move forward.”
Stevens gets honor
The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame selected Stevens for its 2020 Silver Anniversary team. Eighteen players from Stevens’s high school class in 1995 were chosen. Stevens averaged 26.8 points per game as a senior at Zionsville High School and became the school’s career leader in points, assists and steals.
Stevens will miss the March 25 awards ceremony because the Celtics face the Grizzlies that day, but he said his father Mark will represent him.
“I know my dad will really enjoy it, and he’ll probably enjoy spending time with those guys as much as anybody, so that’s what you enjoy about those things,” he said. “Being a part of basketball in this state is just different, and I appreciated being able to do that.”
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.