Celtics

Al Horford at the center of it all in the postseason

Al Horford at the center of it all in the postseason

This probably should have been old hat for Al Horford. After all, he’s got 11 seasons of playoff experience and totaled 115 postseason games, or more than double that of ring-winning teammate Kyrie Irving.

And, yet, as Horford lounged on the scorer’s table inside BankersLife Fieldhouse, conducting a postgame radio interview after Sunday’s Game 4 triumph that completed Boston’s first-round sweep of the Pacers, he seemed to be savoring the moment. 

Behind him, Horford's family, including his father, Tito, who has been glued to Horford’s side in the infancy of this playoff journey, reveled with a “Believe in Boston” banner waving nearby.

Inside the Celtics’ locker room, after his typical postgame ice bath, Horford admitted this four-game sweep was particularly satisfying. Maybe it was the roller coaster nature of Boston’s maddening regular season. Maybe it’s all the work that has gone into simply keeping Horford upright, particularly with the knee soreness that has lingered for much of the season. Maybe it was the bad memories of losing to the Pacers twice in the first round of the playoffs during Horford’s time with the Atlanta Hawks.

Or maybe, nearing his 33rd birthday, Horford has simply learned to savor this all a bit more.

Not that age is slowing him down much. Yes, Horford endured one of the worst shooting performances of his career on Sunday, missing 15 of the 19 shots he hoisted. And, yet, in typical Horford fashion, he was still one of Boston’s most impactful players.

That’s the way it was all series. Horford shot 34 percent against the Pacers in Round 1 but you can make the case that he was the series MVP. Heck, his late-game swat of Bojan Bogdanovic in Game 2 might have singlehandedly prevented a loss, kept the momentum on Boston’s side, and allowed the Celtics to trek to Indiana oozing a confidence that helped the team make such short work of the Pacers.

The advanced numbers confirm Horford’s Round 1 impact. The Celtics owned a team-best net rating of plus-15.9 in the 138 minutes that Horford was on the floor, pairing a robust 109.7 offensive rating with an absurd 93.8 defensive rating.

But it’s the off-court numbers that scream his importance. In the 54 minutes that Horford was on the bench, Boston owned a net rating of minus-16.6. The team's offensive rating plummeted to 77.3 in that span. No other player’s off-court rating was even close (next lowest: Gordon Hayward, minus-4.3).

In easier to digest numbers, the Celtics outscored the Pacers by a team-best 46 points with Horford on the court, and were outscored by a team-high 16 without him.

It’s not necessarily surprising that Horford’s play floated quietly below the radar. It always does. And while everyone from Irving to Jaylen Brown to Terry Rozier deserved the attention for their efforts in Round 1, it’s telling that Horford can have an uncharacteristically inefficient offensive series and still have the biggest impact.

Here’s what shouldn’t float under the radar: Horford might just be the most important player when the Celtics and Bucks clash in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

It seems likely that the Celtics will lean heavy on small-ball lineups against the Bucks, this after featuring two-big lineups with Aron Baynes throughout the Pacers series. By going small, the Celtics can try to exploit situations when Brook Lopez is matched up with Horford, forcing him out towards the 3-point line if the Celtics fire away like they typically have against Milwaukee.

Horford played only 69 minutes over two games against the Bucks this season but his on/off splits looked an awful lot like his first-round playoff numbers. The Celtics were plus-16.8 with Horford on the court (110.1 offensive, 93.3 defensive), but owned a net rating of minus-19.9 in three games and 75 total minutes without him.

The Bucks’ offense gets a jolt with Lopez on the court, giving them a 3-point threat and helping space the floor for Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee’s offensive rating dipped 8 points to a team-worst 106.2 when Lopez wasn’t on the court this season. But the Celtics can force the issue a bit by knocking down perimeter shots.

Going small would also mean that Horford will be forced to match up often with Antetokounmpo, who deserves the MVP for his two-way efforts on a team that was the NBA’s best over the course of 82 regular-season games. While Boston’s success will be dictated in large part by the team’s ability to contain Milwaukee’s role players, it will still be important to make Antetokounmpo work for his points (and avoid the supernova efforts in which he can singlehandedly will his team to victory).

The Celtics could then bring Baynes off the bench to limit Horford’s grind and this might be a series where Semi Ojeleye can add another stout body to throw at Antetokounmpo, something Stevens has done often in the past.

According to the NBA’s tracking data, Horford defended Antetokounmpo on 41 possessions over two regular-season games this season. The Greek Freak was 7-of-14 shooting for 16 points but Horford did a solid job keeping him off the free-throw line. The numbers weren’t particularly glossy for any of Boston’s defenders against Giannis. Ojeleye got 40 turns, allowing 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting with three shooting fouls. It’s notable that Marcus Smart might have enjoyed the most success (7 points on 2-of-6 shooting on 21 possessions). Boston will lean on its stable of switchy forward, particularly Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Morris, and hope to take away the easy stuff for Antetokounmpo (which means tightening up their turnover woes from Round 1, too).

But the brunt of the load will fall on Horford. If his importance isn’t always obvious, it’ll be on the full display in this series. And the Celtics desperately need another dose of Playoff Al if they are to maintain their momentum from Round 1.

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Celtics vs. Pacers odds: Best NBA picks as C's eye fifth straight win

Celtics vs. Pacers odds: Best NBA picks as C's eye fifth straight win

The Boston Celtics are back to their winning ways ... and so are we.

The Celtics' current hot streak -- four consecutive wins -- coincides with our good luck on the betting front, where we're 4-0 picking the moneyline and point spread in Boston's last two games.

The C's face a tough test Wednesday night when they roll into Bankers Life Fieldhouse to play the Indiana Pacers, who are in the Eastern Conference hunt at 15-9.

How will Wednesday's game shake out? Here are our betting predictions for Celtics-Pacers, as well as two NBA locks against the spread.

(All odds provided by WestGate Superbook.)

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Boston Celtics at Indiana Pacers, 7 p.m. ET

Moneyline: Gordon Hayward showed virtually no rust in his return Monday night as the Celtics rolled to their sixth win in seven games. The Pacers have been inconsistent over the last two weeks, so I think Boston's talent wins out here. Take the Celtics (-120).

Point Spread: Indiana is a pedestrian 5-5-2 against the spread at home this season. The Celtics have won seven of their last games in Indiana and are well-rested after whupping the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pacers will put up a fight, but Celtics (-1) is the smart bet here.

Point Total: The Celtics boast the NBA's second-best defense. The Pacers are sixth. The total has gone under in nine of Boston's last 12 games and four of Indiana's last five games. Sign me up for the UNDER on the 209.5 point total.

Darren's record picking the Celtics' moneyline, point spread and point total: 32-21-1

NBA Locks of the Night

Los Angeles Clippers at Toronto Raptors (+2.5): If I'm on the Raptors, I really want to beat Kawhi Leonard in his return to Toronto. The Clippers are 5-6 on the road this season, and it should be quite the hostile environment Wednesday. I'm backing the home team.

Atlanta Hawks at Chicago Bulls (-5): The Hawks are coming off a brutal overtime loss to the Miami Heat on Tuesday (Trae Young called game ... for the wrong team) and haven't won the second leg of a back-to-back yet this season. Chalk this up as a scheduled loss.

Darren's record picking NBA locks against the spread: 20-15-1

Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers live stream: Watch NBA game online

Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers live stream: Watch NBA game online

The last time the Celtics faced the Pacers, Boston swept Indiana out of the playoffs with a four-game sweep, with each win coming by 10 points or fewer.

But this year's Pacers club is much different than last year's. Three of Indiana's top four scorers this season — Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, and Jeremy Lamb — are in their first seasons with the Pacers.

Luckily for the C's, they won't have to contend with Victor Oladipo, who is currently on a rehab assignment in the G-League.

The Celtics are currently riding a four-game win streak and just got Gordon Hayward back in the lineup, while the Pacers are coming off an 11-point loss in Paul George's first game back to Indianapolis since joining the Clippers.

Be sure to tune into NBC Sports Boston for Celtics Pregame Live at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the game at 7 p.m. ET or stream it via the MyTeams app

HOW TO WATCH

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ANALYSIS AND REACTION

BEFORE THE GAME: At 6 p.m., Celtics Pregame Live presented by TD Bank gets you ready for the game with reports from Kyle Draper, Chris MannixMike Gorman, Brian Scalabrine, Chris Forsberg, Tom Haberstroh, and Abby Chin. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream.

AT HALFTIME: Tune in to watch a breakdown of the first two quarters on Halftime Live presented by Ace Ticket. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream.

AFTER THE GAME: As soon as the game ends, tune to Celtics Postgame Live presented by New England Ford for analysis, commentary and player reaction. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream

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