BOSTON – So often when it comes to late-game heroics, Al Horford is often the Boston Celtics' set-up man. Someone else takes the shot for the win that Horford’s screen or his pass for the game-winner, helped arrange.
The Portland Trail Blazers prepared for this, which is why they were caught off guard when head coach Brad Stevens called Horford's number and he didn't disappoint in drilling a buzzer-beating jumper that lifted Boston to a 97-96 win.
Players acknowledged afterwards that the initial call was for Jaylen Brown, but head coach Brad Stevens called an audible at the last second, for the shot to be taken instead by Horford.
“They (Blazers) read it perfectly because I wanted to hand him (Brown) the ball and they stayed tight on him,” said Horford who tallied his team-leading 13th double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds to go with five assists. “So once that happened I was very aggressive, went to a go-to move.”
Yes, the step-back fade-away jumper that Horford has drained time and time again, swished through the net when it really mattered.
Horford’s ability to deliver when it counted most, speaks to the depth of this Celtics team particularly when it comes to winning games despite not playing their best basketball.
“We were hoping, or I was hoping, to get Jaylen a look,” Horford said. “They made it clear from the beginning they were taking that away, so I just made a play for the team and I’m glad the shot went down.”
So are the Celtics (39-15), winners of four in a row as they head out for a two-game road trip that begins in Toronto which is the team closest to Boston in the standings.
“That shot epitomizes the work he’s been putting in all year,” Brown said. “Al’s been playing really well for us, making plays and defending at a really high level.”
It was fitting that the game was decided by a Horford basket.
Because for most of the night, Horford’s ability to impact the shot-making of both Boston and Portland, was a major factor.
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Combine that with him running more at the point, defending big men and switching out on perimeter players looking to attack off the dribble, and it all adds up to a strong performance by Horford under some less-than-ideal challenges.
“It’s a lot to ask of him,” Brown said. “But he embraces it, steps up to the challenge and he does it with class and elegance. That’s why we love Al, because Al is Al, every day of the week.”