In Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart, the Boston Celtics have nearly $54 million in salary sidelined due to injury as they begin the 2018 postseason, but that doesn’t mean they are without hope. Brad Stevens still has Al Horford and that may be enough to propel them past the Milwaukee Bucks and into the second round.
“It’s go time,” Horford said of the playoffs. “This is the time you want to play, you want to be in these types of games.”
Horford did a little of everything in Game 1, providing a vital steadying presence to a Celtics’ roster that is forced to rely on Jaylen Brown (21), Jayson Tatum (20) and Terry Rozier (24) to take, and make, big shots.
“We’re gonna ride Al. He’s been unbelievable being a facilitator for us all year. He has his moments, because of the way we’re being defended, where he gets to be more of a featured scorer,” Stevens said of the big man. “With were we are now, he’s going to be more of a featured scorer. Facilitate, guard Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and he’ll probably run our film session tomorrow. That’s his job.”
The loss of two point guards and how the Bucks have played the Celtics thus far has created a perfect storm for Horford to shine. He can initiate the offense, score around the basket, drain a three or get to the foul line. Horford averaged 1.7 free throws per game this season, then went out and made 13 of 14 from the line while attacking Milwaukee’s defense.
“We were trying to get me in post-up situations. They were doing a good job fronting, making it difficult for me to get the ball,” Horford said of his varied offensive game. “The way that they were playing me, it was forcing me to be closer to the basket, which is fine with me. It’s just trying to find ways to be efficient and help the team.”
The Celtics needed every one of his 24 points and 12 rebounds in the series opener, but over the course of the series his experience will loom larger.
Tatum and Brown were as effective as you can expect given their experience, but they battled rough stretches. Tatum missed seven straight shots over a stretch that bridged the second and third quarters and the duo combined to turn the ball over eight times.
“They both have the ability to bounce back from those stretches,” Stevens said of Tatum and Brown. “Sometimes young players don’t have the ability.”
The ability to move past mistakes is important, but so is the presence of a veteran like Horford to take control when mental mistakes strike. He has seemed to be everywhere, grabbing timely rebounds, creating second chances and playing admirable defense on Antetokounmpo (35 points notwithstanding).
By necessity, Tatum, Brown and Rozier will carry a majority of the offensive load for the Celtics this spring. They are each starting in the postseason for the first time ever.
Horford, meanwhile, has 92 playoff starts over 11 seasons. He won’t often dominate a game statistically, but he’s been the glue that holds the Celtics together since he arrived and is the reason why injuries haven’t completely derailed them.