BOSTON – The arrival of Al Horford was supposed to give the Celtics another elite option to turn to besides Isaiah Thomas.
And while Horford’s play has been solid all season when healthy (he missed nine games with a concussion and another game to be with his wife for the birth of their second child), it wasn’t until Friday’s 110-106 win over Philadelphia that he delivered a barrage of big-time baskets in the closing minutes of a tight game.
The Celtics (22-14) hope they can continue on their winning ways tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans (14-23) in a game that shouldn't be quite as close, but if it is, at least they can turn to someone other than Thomas (one of the top fourth-quarter scorers in the NBA) down the stretch.
Against the Sixers, Horford scored 14 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.
“I was kind of in a zone there,” Horford said. “Guys just kept finding me and I just kept knocking them down.”
Not surprisingly, his teammates were pleased with his performance in the closing moments of a nail-biter.
“He was unbelievable,” said Thomas, whose 9.3 points per game in the fourth quarter ranks second in the NBA to Russell Westbrook (9.8). “As long as we win, anyone can take that from me. We needed those shots that he made. He took some big ones and made some big ones and that says a lot about the player he is.”
Horford, a four-time All-Star, remained even-keeled about his performance, which was good for the Celtics and their fans.
Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston this summer, has missed some late-game lay-ups and jumpers in close losses, the kind of shots that players can forget easily.
Not so much.
“It’s a long season,” Horford said. “You go through ups and downs. That’s part of it. I’m glad we were able to win."
So were his teammates, who believe that his performance against the Sixers gives defenses one more thing to think about - besides trying to limit Thomas - down the stretch if the game is relatively close.
“It makes it that much harder for teams to guard us,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “Al made some big shots [against Philadelphia]. He wasn’t thinking; he was just playing.”
And playing well, especially from behind the 3-point line, where Horford made all four of his 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
“I put in the work shooting those 3’s and getting comfortable with that shot,” Horford said. “I’m going out there and if I’m getting good looks I’m taking them.”
And coach Brad Stevens has shown no hesitation in calling his number in critical moments of previous games.
That’s why the idea of Friday’s performance being a confidence booster for Horford is something Stevens doesn’t think is a big deal for a player as accomplished as the 6-foot-10 center.
“That guy’s a four-time All-Star,” Stevens said. “He’s won a ton of games no matter where he’s been; he’s good. I’m not worried about him.”