BOSTON — The Boston Celtics erupted for 123 points in their Game 1 win over the Washington Wizards, and it was in large part due to Al Horford’s presence on the court.
The Celtics big man stuffed the stat sheet Sunday afternoon as the teams opened their second-round NBA playoff series at TD Garden. He scored 21 points to go along with 10 assists and nine rebounds.
Horford’s versatility allows him to make a significant impact on the Celtics offense. It’s rare for a player of his size to possess such strong passing skills and an ability to stretch the floor. Wizards coach Scott Brooks is aware there aren’t many players in the league with Horford’s skill set, and explained just how much of a matchup nightmare he is for the opposing team.
“He’s one of the best all-around bigs in the league. Top two or three passing big in the league and he shoots threes. He’s a problem, and you have to figure out the best way to maintain what he brings to the floor. Ten assists from your five spot doesn’t happen often.”
Horford was clutch down the stretch for the Celtics. After Washington cut the deficit to three with just over six minutes remaining, Horford rattled off seven straight points to help Boston pad its lead.
Horford’s high basketball IQ is evidenced on a nightly basis. He seems to always make the right play, as Isaiah Thomas noted after the game. Horford’s plus-21 was the second-highest plus-minus of any player Sunday, only behind Jae Crowder’s plus-26.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens knows just how much of an impact Horford has on the team, and he’s known it since he first arrived in Boston.
“He’s just been so impactful for us all year,” Stevens said. “We need him to continue to be really good, whether he’s playing the four or the five. He’s a big part of our team and the way he moves the ball for us is contagious. I’ve felt that way ever since our first practice. I just felt we move the ball at a different level when he’s on the court.”
Horford won’t always produce eye-popping numbers. He’s not a volume scorer, nor an elite rebounder. But his veteran presence on an inexperienced Celtics team has paid dividends in the team’s five-game winning streak.
The Celtics will need Horford to continue to play at a high level if they are going to build on their playoff success. And judging by how he’s performed in recent games, it looks like he’s playing his best at the perfect time.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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