BOSTON — Al Horford’s best performance of the 2018 NBA playoffs came when the Boston Celtics needed it most.
The Celtics center played great at both ends of the floor in Tuesday night’s Game 5, scoring 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to help Boston take a 3-2 lead in their first-round series with a 92-87 win against the Milwaukee Bucks.
He also had three assists, and the biggest of the night came with 1:49 left to play in the fourth quarter when he found Jaylen Brown on the baseline for a score that put Boston up 84-77.
“(Horford) was huge,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “One thing we weren’t doing enough the last few games was our bigs weren’t getting out of the screens quick enough. Al did a great job. He’s a tough matchup for a (center). He’s not your typical (center), so when he’s in he’s getting out of those screens and he’s rolling and causing confusion. Makes it a lot easier for us guards to get into the paint and find guys or create our own shot. Al is a big key for us and he has to keep playing that way.”
Horford now is averaging 18.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists in this series. He’s also shooting 54.6 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from 3-point range. His 14 rebounds in Game 5 were his highest single-game total in his Celtics playoff career.
One of the best parts Horford’ skill set is he’s so well-rounded. He does a little bit of everything at both ends of the floor.
“He’s a big help,” Celtics point guard Terry Rozier said. “He can stretch our offense. Coach kept telling him in the huddle to be aggressive. When he’s aggressive, it’s tough to stop him in the post. He’s a great passer, as we’ll see. He helps us out a lot. It’s great to have him out there. He makes part of our jobs easier.”
Horford outplayed the Bucks’ frontcourt, including superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, and it was the difference in the C’s heading to Milwaukee with a chance to close out the series Thursday night.
Here are some other notes from Celtics-Bucks Game 5:
— Celtics coach Brad Stevens took Aron Baynes out of the starting lineup and replaced him with rookie forward Semi Ojeleye. Ojeleye is more versatile than Baynes and is capable of defending Antetokounmpo, especially from a physical perspective.
Ojeleye did a good job, or about as good as possible, defending the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo scored just 16 points — his lowest of the series — and only attempted 10 shots because Ojeleye and other Celtics beat him to the spot on drives to the basket and forced passes.
— Jayson Tatum was a playmaker throughout the night. He finished with four assists, which isn’t a ton, but importantly for the C’s, he was making the right passes out of double teams, off the pick-and-roll, etc.
On one second-quarter possession, Tatum lost the ball on the perimeter with the shot clock winding down, but instead of hoisting a contested 3-pointer, he was patient and wound up finding Horford on an alley-oop.
Tatum, who struggled scoring-wise with eight points on 2-for-7 shooting, didn’t play in crunch time to close the game. Ojeleye’s defense on the Greek Freak and Smart’s defense and tenacity were more important than Tatum’s offense in a close game.
— Boston’s defense was far better in Game 5 compared to the previous two contests in Milwaukee. The Bucks entered Game 5 shooting 54.2 percent — the best of all 16 teams in the playoffs. The C’s held the Bucks to just 34.9 percent (15-for-43) shooting in the first half and 36.8 percent (32-for-87) for the entire game.
— The Celtics now have won 10 straight Game 5s at home when a series is tied at two games apiece.
— The Celtics out-rebounded the Bucks 50-37. It’s Boston’s highest rebound total of the series.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports