BOSTON — Boston Celtics big man Al Horford was both rightfully excited and extremely forthcoming as he spoke with the media following a 88-87 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday at TD Garden.
The 76ers, of course, were the team Horford left the Celtics for following his first stint in Boston. He signed a massive contract with Philadelphia only to have it run dry shortly into his tenure with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and company. He started 61 games during the 2019-20 season before, ahead of his age-34 season, he was traded to the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder. Horford on Wednesday called it a “very low point” in which he relied on his faith.
The longtime veteran played 30 minutes per game, but averaged his fewest amount of points in more than decade. His numbers essentially were down across the board.
Horford admitted how he believed that trade caused his reputation to take a hit.
“Yeah. Yeah, no question. No question about it,” Horford said after Wednesday’s win. “Obviously, it’s everything on me. It was my decision, my decision to leave, do all these things and, it was like, how are you going to respond after you’ve been faced with adversity? Being down, being talked down about and all these things. It’s a reality. You have to put results, you have to do certain things and I didn’t do that. And, yeah, I’m sure I was written off and I’m just glad that I got another opportunity, in a place where I want to be.”
So, with Horford getting a chance to play the same organization with a Celtics team that he’s thankful for being a part of, there was added motivation. His reaction after the final buzzer — following a game-sealing block by Robert Williams — depicted that, too.
“No question. Yeah, I wouldn’t say another game,” Horford said. “I mean, you know, it was definitely a good win. Good feeling. Just with everything, you know, this was a game that was important. And it’s early December, obviously, but that was a good win. And I’m very happy about it.”
Perhaps the fact he expressed that more than once hints at the meaning, too.
“It was just a win, just a win, and it felt really good for us to get this win tonight,” Horford said. “It was a grind, but there’s no question. You know, it’s already been kind of like a full season (since leaving Philadelphia), but you know, my whole mindset was win this game, it doesn’t matter what cost. We got to come out and win the game.”
Horford was not the only one who took a little extra into the game. Celtics head coach Ime Udoka spent that 2019-20 season in Philadelphia with Horford.
“Yeah, he was excited, as we all were, myself, him and Josh (Richardson) spent that year together in Philly. So, like I said before the game, we know what the rivalry means when you’re part of it, between the two teams,” Udoka said Wednesday. “And besides Al having the history going against Joel in many playoff series. So, we challenged him to take take pride in that matchup. He’s the guy he knows well whether playing with them, playing against him. And like I said 3-for-17, total team effort, a lot of guys digging, making plays on him, but Al probably did have some excitement there. You could see it at the end when Rob (Williams) got the shot blocked. He was screaming pretty loud. So, in general, it was a good overall win. Like I said, defensively we’re solid, but it probably means a little more to myself, Al and Josh because we’ve been there.”
Horford was one of the stars of the game in large part because what he did on the defensive end. He held 76ers star Joel Embiid to 3-for-17 from the field with six of his 13 points coming at the free throw line. Boston, in general, limited Philadelphia to 37.1% from the field and 25.8% from long range.
Horford and the Celtics now get set to travel for a five-game Western Conference road trip. It will start Friday when Boston travels to Utah to face the Jazz.