With half a second left in the third quarter on Thursday night, Kyrie Irving lobbed a perfect inbounds pass to Al Horford, who laid it in at the buzzer to give the Celtics a 72-69 lead over the Bucks.
Horford returned the favor with two minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Celtics protecting a seven-point lead, finding a cutting Irving for the shot-clock-beating layup that put away a 96-89 victory.
Five games into life without Gordon Hayward, the Celtics are already developing an identity, and on Thursday night it revolved around their two veteran All-Stars.
Horford and Irving spent the night playing the two-man game that Horford had developed with Isaiah Thomas a year earlier, and for meaningful stretches, it was electric.
Both recorded a season-high in points, with Horford dropping 27 on 11-of-14 shooting and Irving going for 24 while shooting 10-of-18. Irving’s 24 felt like 50, because for the first time this young season, he unleashed his arsenal of impossible floaters, spin moves, teardrops and drives.
In winning their third straight game after an 0-2 start, the Celtics showed what kind of team they’re going to have to be without Hayward — dirt doggy on the fringes, star-driven at the center.
Both Irving and Horford have been subjected to some minor criticisms thus far, with the former being accused of coasting and underachieving, and the latter earning the unflattering nickname of “Average Al.”
But Irving was dialed in from the start, scoring seven quick points en route to 16 in the first half on the same floor he had questioned as unfit for the NBA at shootaround. The game was played at The MECCA, Milwaukee’s home court during the days of Sidney Moncrief, Terry Cummings, and Junior Bridgeman. It was the first game played in the place in nearly 30 years, and was part of the team’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Tito Horford, Al’s dad, was drafted by the Bucks in 1988 and missed the building by a year. His son did him proud, however, with his most complete game of the season. Horford aggressively sought his offense early on the blocks before extending his range. He ended up making 4-of-5 3-pointers, including one to beat the shot clock off a beautiful inside-out feed from a driving Irving in traffic in the fourth quarter.
Horford added nine rebounds and played outstanding defense on Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who entered the game averaging a league-leading 36.8 points, but was held to 28 points on 10-of-21 shooting that included a pair of garbage 3s in the final 90 seconds.
The issue for the Celtics will be keeping both players competing at such a high level. Irving forced his offense a little more aggressively, particularly with the shot clock running low, and dazzled with a series of Houdini escape acts. Horford, who is often content to facilitate as one of the league’s best passing big men, was similarly engaged.
The result was the team’s best win of the season over a quality opponent. If the Celtics are to have any hope of making any noise in the East this season, there’s going to need to be a lot more where that came from.
Full article @ Celtics 96, Bucks 89: Average Al Horford, coasting Kyrie Irving show up to play
Source: GreenStreet Blog