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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Celtics Forgotten 50: Important players who played a role in franchise history

Celtics Forgotten 50: Important players who played a role in franchise history

The list of Boston Celtics greats is lengthy, one filled with players whose basketball exploits will live on forever in the minds and hearts of Celtics Nation and basketball fans across the globe. 

But in taking their place as the league’s forebearers of greatness, behind them stood men whose many contributions on and off the court — while not as noticeable — are important when it comes to the narrative surrounding the Boston Celtics franchise and its ascension to becoming the NBA’s first great basketball dynasty. 

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The Celtics have won more NBA titles (17) than any team in league history. That includes a stretch in which they won 11 titles in 13 seasons, the kind of dominance we have not seen since, and will likely never see again.

Bill Russell. Bob Cousy. Larry Bird. 

Those are just some of the names that come to mind right away when conversations steer towards historical excellence among the Celtics franchise. 

But there are so many others whose contributions to the franchise’s success have largely gone ignored, cast aside or simply forgotten about as the sands of time move on when it comes to the growth and evolution of the most storied franchise in NBA history. 

Here we shed some light on those contributors divided into three groups but collectively make up, “The Forgotten 50.”

  • Part 1: The Early Years | Part 2: Behind the Dynasty (coming June 2) | Part 3: Franchise in Transition (coming June 9)

The Tom Brady bump: 'The Match' makes history with huge TV ratings

The Tom Brady bump: 'The Match' makes history with huge TV ratings

Tom Brady has edged Michael Jordan, it appears.

Sunday's "The Match: Champions for Charity" golf match pitting Brady and Phil Mickelson against Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods averaged 5.8 million TV viewers across TNT, TBS, truTV and HLN, according to Turner Sports.

Here's the context behind that number: It makes Sunday's event the most-watched golf telecast in cable television history and the highest-rated program on TV that day.

Remarkably, "The Match" also drew more average viewers than ESPN's "The Last Dance," the 10-part documentary series on Jordan and the Chicago Bulls that averaged 5.65 million same-day viewers per episode.

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For further context: Game 4 of the 2019 World Series averaged 10.2 million TV viewers, less than double the ratings for a charity golf match.

Such is the current sports media landscape with all North American professional sports on hold, though. While "The Last Dance" dug up the past, "The Match" was an actual sporting event featuring four of the biggest names in sports.

Brady obviously was a big draw, as this was one of the quarterback's first public appearances since leaving the New England Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

TB12 didn't exactly light it up on the course -- he and Mickelson lost to Woods and Manning -- but still created plenty of buzz by sinking a miracle shot for birdie, ripping his pants on the course and trading barbs with Manning.

Until sports return in 2020, expect events like these to capture America's full attention.