Boston Celtics: Al Horford shines in loss to Milwaukee Bucks

Al Horford (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Al Horford (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics stumbled a bit out of the post All-Star break, but Al Horford continues to fill up the box score.

A loss to the team with the best record in the NBA is not exactly how the Boston Celtics planned to open up their slate after the All-Star break. Especially in a game they had plenty of chances to win.

Kyrie Irving missed a contested layup as time expired and the Celtics fell to the Milwaukee Bucks in Milwaukee, 98-97.

Boston’s offense struggled most of the night, the bench had only six points (outside of Jaylen Brown and his 15), and the Celtics played without Gordon Hayward. Hayward sprained his ankle in a workout on Tuesday.

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But Al Horford had an outstanding performance in the loss.

Despite his play, Horford did contribute to the struggles on offense, going 8-21 (38 percent) from the floor. Irving was slightly worse, knocking down only 33 percent (9-27) from the field. Still, he scored 10 of his team-high 22 points in the fourth quarter and had the Celtics right there at the end of the game.

Jayson Tatum added a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

It was Horford’s play at both ends of the floor, however, that Boston was even in this game to begin with.

Horford finished with 21 points while collecting a season-high 17 rebounds (7 on the offensive end). He added five assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals, all while guarding the all-worldly Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo scored 30 points, but Horford slowed him down at times and forced “The Greek Freak” to put the ball in his teammates hands in a few key situations.

This game for Horford wasn’t an anomaly, either. He’s stepped up his game over the last month and flipped his switch into playoff mode.

Steady hand, rock foundation

Over the years, even dating back to his days with the Atlanta Hawks, Horford has been a steady force while quietly assuming leadership on the floor. That hasn’t changed in Boston.

Horford will never be consistently a 20-10 guy, but he picks his moments. And numbers don’t always tell the story for Horford and his importance to the Celtics. He continues to do a little bit of everything, part of the reason to me he earns every bit of his contract, Horford passes out of the post, can knock down the ‘3’, is an above average rebounder, and — above all — is the grizzled veteran of this team.

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Since January 16, his play has increased in value. And perhaps “playoff Horford” has arrived early.

The Celtics have played in 16 games during this span, with Horford playing in 15 of them. He’s averaging 14.7 points and 8.8 rebounds over this time, both nearly plus two of his season averages. In fact, Horford’s monthly averages have gone up 1-2 ticks each month, including a jump of 13.1 points in January to 14.9 so far in February.

The last 15 games have also seen Horford average 4.3 assists and nearly two blocks per game. He had six blocked shots against Brooklyn in late January and a four-steal game against Philadelphia a just prior to the All-Star break.

Over his last ten games, Horford is shooting 51.2 percent from the field.

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This level of play from Horford will be needed as the Celtics hit the homestretch of the regular season. We’ve seen it in the playoffs in the past from him, but with the urgency of snagging a top-three seed, it’s good to see Horford has switched gears a little earlier this season.