Some players, specifically big men in the modern NBA, lose value when the playoffs come around. For Al Horford, this is not the case.
The Celtics big man did everything for Boston Sunday afternoon, as they took Game 1 of their second-round series over the Milwaukee Bucks with a commanding 112-90 win. Horford finished with 20 points (8-of-16 FG), seven rebounds and three blocks in the victory, but his biggest impact came on the defensive end against MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.
From the opening tip, Horford led the charge in suffocating Antetokounmpo and sealing him out of the paint. The Celtics used delayed double teams in early going to force the “Greek Freak” out of his comfort zone.
Of course, Antetokounmpo adjusted and found ways into the paint, but Horford was often waiting for him. The 32-year-old had three of Boston’s 11 blocks.
Horford was tremendous on the offensive end as well, providing his usual jack-of-all-trades skillset. He utilized a pick-and-pop game with Kyrie Irving, which allowed him to hit multiple mid-range jumpers in addition to going 3-of-5 from deep.
Irving had a game-high 26 points, but it Horford who was of the utmost importance in slowing down Milwaukee’s high flying offense.
As Brad Stevens told reporters in Milwaukee after the game, “You can’t overstate Al Horford’s importance to our team.”
Here are some other notes from Sunday’s Celtics-Bucks Game 1:
— Jaylen Brown put Antetokounmpo on a poster during Sunday’s second-half. Not many get the chance to say that.
Brown finished with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting in the win.
— Irving was spectacular to round out the backcourt’s performance, recording his game-high 26 points in a relatively quiet manner.
The All-Star point guard did have a first-half stretch where he was dominated in the post, hitting multiple turn-around jumpers in the post that were basically impossible to defend. Check it out:
Sunday was the first time in Irving’s postseason career where he’s scored 25-plus points in a double-double. His 11 assists were a playoff career high, according to Celtics Stats.
— Sunday was arguably Boston’s best defensive effort this season, and it just so happened to go along with a stellar offensive performance. The Celtics shot 54 percent from the floor and held a 38-36 advantage in the paint.
— The Bucks got to the free throw line 24 times compared to Boston’s eight.
As concerning as this may seem, it’s not going to change. The Celtics haven’t gotten to the line all season, while Milwaukee doesn’t allow opponents to get there. Expect this narrative to stick around for the entirety of the series.
— Gordon Hayward had another strong, efficient showing, posting 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. He was pleased with the win, but told reporters that they came to Milwaukee for two wins, not one.
— Game 2 between the Celtics and Bucks is set for Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. ET.