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,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said of Al Horford’s rare emotional outbursts early in the fourth quarter. as the latter thumped over Giannis Antetokounmpo. The often stoic Horford made what was possibly his best playoff game with his 35 years, emphasizing once again his worth in this series.
No, Horford is no longer the Giannis stopper he was three or four years ago – it is none – 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 him, his sister noticed it too. The reaction of the ancients had it all.
“The way he looked at me and the way it went at that moment did not suit me. It turned a shift for me,” Horford said after the match. 30 points, five threes converted – Horford packed the Celtics on his shoulders as it looked like the reigning champions would actually go 3-1 in the series and push Boston to the edge of the abyss.
Instead, Horford gave the right answer early in the fourth quarter as the Bucks had a 7-point lead. In just seven minutes, The Big scored 16 points (6/6 FG), and Boston suddenly led again with 4 points. Two middle-distance jumpers, the thump with a foul, a small hook-shot with a foul and two three-pointers – Horford showed his full arsenal of skills before Jayson Tatum brought home the 116-108 victory.
Al Horford: X Factor for the Celtics
“Al has been important to us all year and today we really needed him. (…) We know we can get this throw at any time. He just has to look aggressively at the throw,” coach Ime said Udoka. Quite a few would probably no longer have thought that Horford was capable of such an idea, even though he was the best player in the line-up of the Celtics in the first three games.
Big Al was never the big goal scorer, even when he was the franchise star of the Atlanta Hawks in his prime. Horford was not necessarily looking for his own throw, instead he was geared to make the right play. In this series, this often involves pick ‘n’ pops, as the Bucks are eager to close the zone with Brook Lopez.
Just over a year ago, Horford had been on holiday for a long time, he only took jumpers for fun, not at important times in the playoffs. After his switch to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 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 put the Thunder’s thinking mission in jeopardy.
Al Horford: Depreciated two years ago
Horford ended up at OKC at all due to a costly 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 include Giannis, but the fit with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons was never there, leaving Horford mostly to look passive in the corner.
Too old, too slow, no longer mobile – these were the usual assessments for Horford’s time in the city of brotherly love, the word “washed” so popular in American sports was not uncommon, also because Horford had problems with his knee over and over again. Philly dumped Horford and his contract at OKC.
But Boston had not forgotten that, with Horford as the liaison on both sides of the pitch, they had reached the Conference Finals twice in four years. Brad Stevens, then coach who became GM at Beantown, was one of his first acts facilitating a trade with Horford while dropping the toxic contract with the eternally injured Kemba Walker.
27 million to Horford is still very much 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 is guaranteed) to save himself the luxury tax. But after his earlier playoffs, these mind games should be better referred to in the realm of fables. Horford fits the team perfectly with his style of play and is so unique with his abilities that you would not find an equal replacement anyway.
Al Horford: The best playoff game of his career?
The 35-year-old can continue to act as a shift defender, but can also compete in direct duels against the center. This allows Udoka to park Boston fiver Robert Williams (who missed game 4) and put him in a free safety role, which Williams thrived on in the regular season. Horford also played his part in preventing Kevin Durant from performing as well as he wanted against Brooklyn, though Tatum got the focus here.
The Celtics are obviously aware of Horford’s importance, Smart described the old man 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 goal scorer after Tatum and Jaylen Brown and more than just the good mood uncle to the 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 idea of being able to play him a full 42 minutes in a playoff game. Boston needed every single one in Game 4, and they will 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 for you. This time it was the provocation of the snarling Antetokounmpo that triggered an aggression in Horford that one is not really used to from him.
Celtics vs. Bucks: Series overview
|1||May 1||at 19||Boston Celtics||Milwaukee Bucks||89: 101|
|2||May 4||1 o’clock||Boston Celtics||Milwaukee Bucks||109: 86|
|3||May 7||21.30||Milwaukee Bucks||Boston Celtics||103: 101|
|4||May 10||1:30||Milwaukee Bucks||Boston Celtics||108: 116|
|5||May 12||1 o’clock||Boston Celtics||Milwaukee Bucks||–|
|6||May 14||TBD||Milwaukee Bucks||Boston Celtics||–|
|7 *||May 16||TBD||Boston Celtics||Milwaukee Bucks||–|