Al Horford's sick block leaves Pacers feeling ill

Al Horford's sick block leaves Pacers feeling ill

BOSTON — Al Horford took a quick glance over his shoulder but it was clear he was on his own. Jayson Tatum had been swallowed up by a double screen and now Bojan Bogdanovic stood above the 3-point arc with the ball and an opportunity to drive a stake through the heart of the Celtics’ spirited fourth-quarter comeback.

Four blue jerseys darted for the perimeter and Horford braced for the isolation showdown. A minute earlier, Bogdanovic had reset after a failed drive attempt and drilled a step-back 3-pointer over Horford that put the Pacers out front by 2. Now, with little more than a minute to go, any score likely would have sent this Eastern Conference first-round series back to Indiana tied at one game apiece.

Three hours earlier, it wasn’t even clear if Horford would be on the court for a moment like this. He fell ill on Tuesday night on the eve of Game 2 and the team deemed him questionable while telling him to stay away from the morning shootaround.

But, now, in maybe the game’s biggest moment, Horford knew it didn’t matter if he felt like himself or not.

"Whatever I had to do to get a stop,” said Horford. "I felt like that was a big play for us there.”

A crossover dribble above the 3-point arc left Horford stumbling a bit and then Bogdanovic turned on the jets down the left side of the blocks. Horford somehow steadied himself and managed to shuffle along. 

Bogdanovic got all the way to the basket but, as he went up with a left-handed layup attempt, Horford extended the right arm that had been clearing his path and managed to swat the attempt off the glass. Bogdanovic spilled into the stanchion and the Celtics raced the other way for a go-ahead 3-pointer.

On a night when Kyrie Irving was spectacular and Jayson Tatum reasserted himself on the playoff stage, it was less-than-100% Horford who gave the Celtics the chance to win the game by playing 12 exquisite fourth-quarter minutes.

"Tip my hat to Al, true warrior, true professional,” said Jaylen Brown, who broke out in transition after the Horford block and fed Tatum for the go-ahead triple that lifted the Celtics to a 99-91 triumph and a 2-0 series lead.

“[Horford] gave us everything he had, and everyone knows he’s battling an illness. He came out and was tremendous for us.”

Horford might never the adulation he deserves, but games like this continue to prove why he’s maybe the most important piece of the puzzle. For as uniquely talented as guys like Irving and Tatum are, it’s Horford that sort of holds everything together. 

Horford downplayed his illness, suggesting he knew most of the day that he would play. This wasn’t Jordan’s Flu Game but it’s also undeniable that Horford didn’t quite look like himself for three quarters. He was scoreless entering the final frame and simply looked a step slower than normal, as if whatever left his stomach rumbling overnight had sapped his energy a bit.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens drew up a play for Horford to start the fourth quarter and that banked driving hook shot seemed to give him a needed jolt. Horford canned an 18-foot jumper soon after.

Horford didn’t just play the final 12 minutes, he also logged the final 2:24 of the third frame, checking in with the Celtics down 10 and the Pacers trying to pull away. Horford was plus-19 in the final frame and finished with four points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and two blocks overall.

But no play was bigger than that swat on Bogdanovic. As always, the Celtics could lean on Horford when they needed a stop the most.

"Once we knew that Al was going to play, we knew he was going to be Al,” said Terry Rozier, who gave the team key minutes early in the fourth quarter while Irving rested. “Whether he was scoring the ball or not, he’s going to make his presence felt. It’s always good to have him. He makes the job so much easier when you’re playing with him.”

Horford logged 37 minutes, 18 seconds of floor time overall. That’s more than eight minutes north of his season average (29) and a bit more than he averaged in last year’s postseason. But Stevens couldn’t take him off the floor late in the game.

“I told him I’d use one of my timeouts that I didn’t use so he’s probably pissed at me,” Stevens said half-jokingly. “I thought his play on the glass, his play protecting the rim, and then everybody else moving the ball and finding the next right shot just kind of allowed us to hit singles and get back in it.”

For his part, Horford didn’t fret the high-minute total. Not in the playoffs.

"At that point, it’s whatever I can to help our team win,” said Horford. "Really just continue to push. It was a lot of fun tonight. The crowd was great. I was just happy I was out there.”

The Celtics would have been the ones feel queasy if Horford didn’t help rescue them Wednesday.

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Old Takes Exposed reminds us of a brutal date in Celtics history

Old Takes Exposed reminds us of a brutal date in Celtics history

The 2018-19 season certainly didn't end well for the Celtics, but an important thing to remember is that it could always be worse. The notorious Twitter account Old Takes Exposed reminded us all how true that sentiment can be Sunday.

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the 1997 NBA Draft Lottery, where the Celtics owned the second-best odds to land the top pick, and generational prospect Tim Duncan. As we know, the Spurs ended up winning while the Celtics fell to the third overall pick. 

Duncan was the ultimate prize in 1997, so losing the lottery was a tough blow to a Celtics franchise that needed a reason for hope after the end of the Larry Bird era and the tragic passing of Reggie Lewis. 

Boston ultimately made out well by selecting future Hall of Fame point guard Chauncey Billups, but Duncan was on another level as a prospect. 

At the time, a Buffalo News column claimed that the Celtics had something better than Tim Duncan; newly hired head coach Rick Pitino. 

Pitino was hired after winning a National Championship with the University of Kentucky, but his six-year run in Boston was not nearly as successful. He posted a 192-220 record as head coach, traded Billups during his rookie season along with Dee Brown for Kenny Anderson, Popeye Jones and Zan Tabak. Not great. 

And of course, there was the famous, "Not walking through that door," rant. 

Pitino at least drafted Celtics legend Paul Pierce, but his tenure as the team's head coach is one of the darker spots in the franchise's history. 

Duncan went on to win five championships with the Spurs and leaves a legacy as arguably the best power forward of all time. 

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Celtics target JB Bickerstaff agrees to join Cavaliers

Celtics target JB Bickerstaff agrees to join Cavaliers

The Boston Celtics have an assistant coach opening on their roster. After Micah Shrewsberry left the team to coach at Purdue, the team is looking to hire another assistant for Brad Stevens' staff. 

Recently, the Celtics reportedly interviewed JB Bickerstaff for the role. Bickerstaff, 40, has 15 years of experience as an assistant coach and has also served as the interim for the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies. So, it's easy to see why the team wanted him.

However, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended up agreeing to terms with Bickerstaff, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Bickerstaff's experience will help first-time NBA coach, John Beilein, to transition from coaching a top college program to coaching an NBA team, as Wojnarowski pointed out. That explains why the Cavs were so willing to pay up for Bickerstaff's services.

While the Celtics may be disappointed that they missed out on Bickerstaff, there are plenty of other coaching candidates available for the team. Notably, former Celtics player Kendrick Perkins has expressed an interest in coaching for the team, but it's unclear if Brad Stevens and company want a more seasoned coach on their roster. Either way, they will continue to try and find a replacement for the departed Shrewsberry.

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