When the going gets tough, Al Horford gets going.
The 6’9″ Celtics center has embodied that proverb, notably in clutch situations, time and time again for the Celtics; when “Playoff Al” gets going, he digs deep, flips a switch and seems to bolster all aspects of his game — like he did last year when he helped the Celtics come back from an 11-point deficit to defeat Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in a pivotal Game 4 victory that was the catalyst for the Celtics making it to the NBA Championship series against the Golden State Warriors. In that game, Horford scored a career high 30-points, 14 of them coming in the fourth quarter.
Although it was only a regular season game, last night Horford dug deep again; it may have had something to do with the Celtics’ matchup, an NBA Finals rematch against the Golden State Warriors, but when the going got tough, Horford was there to set the tone, helping the Celtics secure a 121-118 OT victory. Horford finished the game with 20 points, 10 rebounds (his first 20-10 game of the season) and 3 blocks, one of which came in the first quarter where he chased down Warriors guard Jordan Poole and stuffed his fast break layup attempt.
“It was important from the beginning that I came out and set the tone for our group,” Horford said in the post-game comments. “We really did a good job of staying the course and feeding off of the energy from the crowd.”
Horford said of the Poole block, “I was just out there competing. This type of game, at least to me, felt like it had playoff-type intensity. Those types of plays are important.”
“I wanted to come out here and I wanted to win,” Horford added. “I wanted to win really bad, absolutely. It’s a regular season game, it’s just one game, it’s over but it’s an important game.”
Horford’s teammate Marcus Smart was also impressed by Horford’s mentality and showing, but also by the way the 36-year-old seemed to defy age.
“Man, I think what stood out most for Al was how young he looks,” Smart said. “Al’s what 37, 36, one of those, and he looks he’s 25. It’s kind of hard for us to go out there and bring that energy when we see Al doing it at his age and the way that he goes about his business in this profession. So for us, it’s huge. And I think with Al having that energy, he gave us all that energy.”
Celtics star Jason Taytum reiterated Smart’s commentary. “I joked with Al, he came up and looked like he was 25 today,” Tatum said. “Two days off, I said he need more two days in a row because he came out and set the tone. He really did. And we all kind of followed behind that the rest of the night. Al was big for us the whole game, hit the big 3 late, but just the way he started kind of set the tone for us the rest of the game.”
Horford’s rebounds were also a big factor in the Celtics win, with the Celtics grabbing 63 total rebounds to the Warriors’ 47, 18 of which came on the offensive side and translated to 52 points in the paint for the Celts.
“I just thought he brought a different type of physicality and mindset to the game, especially the way he started off,” Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla said. “And he did some great things as far as offensive rebounding. I thought his screening versus the switch was really good. And then I felt when we went to him at the five, his ability to space and just make the right play. And so I thought he helped us get going by having a good start with his mindset. And we needed that. He was big.”
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