Look up and down the Celtics roster, and you’d be forgiven for wondering if half the team is old enough to drink, drive, or vote.
The C’s entered the playoff as the fifth-youngest team in the league, thanks to promising stars like Jayson Tatum (20) and Jaylen Brown (21), who can still remember high school without the aid of grainy Facebook photos.
But all that youth doesn’t mean the Celtics lack experience. Because as they took the floor for Game 7 against the Bucks on Saturday night, at least one player knew his way around the postseason, and he grabbed the reins.
On the day center Al Horford was born in 1986, Larry Bird fell one rebound shy of a triple-double during a 106-103 victory over the Rockets in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The C’s would claim their 16th the following week.
Thirty-two years later, Horford’s Celtics are in no position to hang an 18th banner. Injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving took care of that. But that doesn’t mean they can’t wring every last moment out of a once-promising. So on Saturday, Horford decided not to let the Celtics head home for the summer just yet.
He threw down a tone-setting alley-oop to open the game and he didn’t stop exerting his will until the Celtics had left the floor with a blowout 112-96 victory that sets up a date with the 76ers in the conference semifinals.
“Horford was dominant,” saluted Bucks forward Khris Middleton. “He got to his strength, found his teammates, and rebounded well. He killed us tonight.”
Horford was a monster, making 13-of-17 shots for a playoff career-high of 26 points and adding eight rebounds and three assists. He fell just one point shy of his Celtics high.
With the C’s looking to take the fight to the Bucks in the opening minutes, Horford was the aggressor. He caught Tatum’s alley-oop to ignite the crowd, and moments later he drove for a layup. He was particularly dominant in the third quarter when the Celtics took control, hitting all five of his shots for 10 points.
“I thought he was really, really big for us,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “I thought at the start of the second half we were – it was probably the one moment – end of the first, start of the second, where we looked a little bit lethargic. And when we came back to the huddle for the first timeout we had actually increased our lead by two, and it was largely due to him.”
He wasn’t alone. Tatum led the youth brigade with 20 points and finished a team-high plus-24. Meanwhile, point guard Terry Rozier dominated his matchup with nemesis Eric Bledsoe, scoring 26 points and making five 3-pointers as the crowd chanted, “Who is Bledsoe?”
The challenge gets infinitely tougher in the second round. The Sixers have won 20 of their last 21, including a five-game victory over the Heat in the first round. With Joel Embiid back and surefire Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons turning into the second coming of Magic Johnson, the C’s may very well see their season end in the next couple of weeks.
But until then, they’ll keep following No. 42’s lead. These aren’t Horford’s first playoffs, and he knows how to take the lead.
Full article @ Celtics 112, Bucks 96: Al Horford leads Game 7 romp to set up meeting with 76ers
Source: GreenStreet Blog