Al Horford saved the Boston Celtics from a possible premature knockout against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 with the best playoff game of his career. The 35-year-old is enormously valuable even in old age and thus gives the lie to all critics.
“It’s really rare, but when he comes out, he does it,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said of Al Horford’s rare emotional outburst early in the fourth quarter. when the latter dunked over Giannis Antetokounmpo. The often stoic Horford made what was possibly his best playoff game at 35 and once again underlined his worth in this series.
No, Horford is no longer the Giannis stopper he was three or four years ago – nobody is – and yet hardly any opponent poses as many difficulties for the MVP as the Celtics Big. The fact that Antetokounmpo put Horford on the poster in the third quarter nagged at him, his sister noticed that too. The reaction of the oldies had it all.
“The way he looked at me and the way it was going at that moment didn’t suit me. That flipped a switch for me,” Horford said after the game. 30 points, five threes converted – Horford wrapped the Celtics on his shoulders as it looked as if the reigning champions would actually go 3-1 in the series and push Boston to the brink of the abyss.
Instead, Horford provided the right answer early in the fourth quarter as the Bucks held a 7-point lead. In just seven minutes, the Big scored 16 points (6/6 FG) and Boston suddenly led again by 4 points. Two middle-distance jumpers, the dunk with a foul, a small hook shot with a foul, and two three-pointers – Horford displayed his full arsenal of skills before Jayson Tatum brought home the 116-108 win.
Al Horford: The X Factor for the Celtics
“Al has been important to us all year and today we really needed him. (…) We know that we can get this throw at any time. He just has to look aggressively for the throw,” said coach Ime Udoka . Quite a few would probably no longer have believed Horford capable of such an idea, even if he was the best player in the ranks of the Celtics for the first three games.
Big Al was never the big scorer, even when he was the franchise star with the Atlanta Hawks in his prime. Horford wasn’t necessarily looking for his own throw, instead he was geared towards making the right play. In this series, this often involves pick ‘n’ pops as the Bucks are anxious to lockdown the zone with Brook Lopez.
Just over a year ago, Horford had been on vacation for a long time, he only took jumpers for fun, not at important moments in the playoffs. After his trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Big suddenly found himself playing for one of the worst teams in the league and was sent on vacation after 44 games this season because he was simply too good and jeopardizing the Thunder’s tanking mission.
Al Horford: Written off two years ago
Horford ended up in OKC at all because of an expensive misunderstanding from 2019, when Big Al surprisingly left the Celtics and instead signed with the Philadelphia 76ers for four years and $109 million. The Sixers brought him in primarily to contain Giannis, but the fit with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons was never there, leaving Horford mostly to watch impassively in the corner.
Too old, too slow, no longer mobile – these were the usual ratings for Horford’s time in the city of brotherly love, the word “washed” so popular in US sports was not uncommon, also because Horford had problems with his knee again and again . Philly dumped Horford and his contract in OKC.
But Boston hadn’t forgotten that, with Horford as liaison on both sides of the field, they’d reached the Conference Finals twice in four years. Brad Stevens, then-coach-turned-GM at Beantown, was one of his first acts, facilitating a trade for Horford while ditching the toxic contract of the perpetually injured Kemba Walker.
27 million for Horford is still a lot of wood and there is speculation that the Celtics will not fire him after the season (only 14.5 of the 26.5 million for 22/23 are guaranteed) to save themselves the luxury tax. But after his previous playoffs, these mind games should better be referred to the realm of fables. Horford fits the team perfectly with his style of play and is so unique with his skills that you would not find an equal replacement anyway.
Al Horford: The best playoffs of his career?
The 35-year-old can continue to act as a switch defender, but can also compete in direct duels against the center. This allows Udoka to corner park Boston fiver Robert Williams (who missed Game 4) and put him in a free safety role that Williams thrived on during the regular season. Horford also played his part in preventing Kevin Durant from performing as well as he wanted against Brooklyn, although Tatum got the spotlight here.
The Celtics are of course aware of Horford’s importance, Smart described the oldie as the “best veteran” he has ever played with. With an average of 15.9 points and 9.4 rebounds at 56.5 percent from the field and 53.5 percent from the three-line, Horford is already the third best scorer after Tatum and Jaylen Brown and more than just the good mood uncle for them Cabin.
Horford is important again, in the playoffs he is even more important with his flexibility than in the regular season, where he was rested more often, also with the ulterior motive of being able to play him a whopping 42 minutes in a playoff game. Boston needed every single one in Game 4, and they’ll need it in this close, physical, and hard-fought series that could also be described as Pistons vs. Pacers 2004 with three-pointers.
It’s a knife edge series, little things will decide you. This time it was the provocation of the snarling Antetokounmpo, who unleashed an aggressiveness in Horford that one is not really used to from him.
Celtics vs. Bucks: The series at a glance
|1||1st of May||19 o’clock||Boston Celtics||Milwaukee Bucks||89:101|
|2||May 4th||1 O ‘clock||Boston Celtics||Milwaukee Bucks||109:86|
|3||May 7th||9:30 p.m||Milwaukee Bucks||Boston Celtics||103:101|
|4||10th of May||1:30||Milwaukee Bucks||Boston Celtics||108:116|
|5||12th of May||1 O ‘clock||Boston Celtics||Milwaukee Bucks||–|
|6||May 14th||TBD||Milwaukee Bucks||Boston Celtics||–|
|7*||May 16th||TBD||Boston Celtics||Milwaukee Bucks||–|
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