The Celtics have won without Gordon Hayward. They’ve won without Kyrie Irving. They’ve won without Marcus Smart.
If the playoffs are any indication, there’s one player they’d rather not try to win without — Al Horford.
There’s just no longer any point in the whole Average Al discussion, because the playoffs are once again proving to be Horford’s time.
On Monday, with guard Jaylen Brown sidelined by a bad hamstring, Horford made sure it didn’t matter in a 117-101 Game 1 victory over the red-hot 76ers. He led a balanced attack that included at least three players with 26 points by doing what he does best — scoring efficiently, grabbing rebounds, and playing outstanding defense on everyone from Ben Simmons to Joel Embiid.
We should be used to this by now. Whatever energy Horford conserves during the season, he saves it for the right time of year. On Monday, he reserved some of his best work for the stretch run, beating the shot clock with a baseline jumper and drilling a 3 from the top of the key to stave off a Philly comeback.
Horford didn’t win this one alone. Rookie Jayson Tatum was assertive on both ends en route to 28 points. Guard Terry Rozier proved a matchup nightmare while scoring 29 points and adding eight rebounds and six assists while making 7-of-9 3-pointers.
It wasn’t supposed to be this easy, not with Brown sidelined and the Celtics down to about seven usable bodies. But they’ve confounded our expectations all season, so why stop now?
The 76ers entered the series with 20 wins in their previous 21 games behind Simmons, the presumed Rookie of the Year, and the monstrous Embiid.
The difficulty of guarding the 76ers isn’t exactly about those two, though. It’s about what happens when you help on them by sagging off everyone else.
The Sixers flood the floor with shooters, from deadeye J.J. Redick to Dario Saric to Marco Belinelli to Robert Covington. But the Celtics owned the best defense in the league against rival 3-point shooters this season, and they lived up to that billing by limiting the Sixers to just 5-of-26 from beyond the arc.
That’s a 19.2 percent success rate. The Celtics, meanwhile, drilled 17-of-36 3-pointers (.472) to run the Sixers off the floor. Game 2 will be in Boston on Thursday night at 8:30.
Full article @ Celtics 117, Sixers 101: Al Horford leads a mighty trio as C’s roll to shockingly easy Game 1 win
Source: GreenStreet Blog