PHILADELPHIA – The Boston Celtics seemed on the cusp of suffering a heartbreaking loss at Philadelphia.
Players and coaches weren’t sure how this was all going to turn out in the closing moments.
So they did the one thing they know works more nights than not – they turned to Al Horford.
Horford has been an absolute rock for Boston in the postseason, and with a chance to put the Sixers in the kind of series ditch no team has climbed fully out of, he took over.
Boston has a 3-0 series lead following their 101-98 overtime win against Philadelphia.
And while the hands needed to make that happen were plenty, the guiding force behind their ability to withstand all the ups and downs – and there were a lot of downs, for sure – in Game 3 was Horford.
He had 13 points, but 11 came in the fourth quarter and overtime.
And he got it down at both ends of the floor.
It was a fitting sequence for Boston to end the game with a Horford steal that led to a pair of free throws which would prove to be the final points scored in the game.
“He’s the stabilizer for our group, there’s no question about it,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “When things get going poorly, everybody kind of looks to Al, including the coaches. And when he says something, we all feel better.”
Celtics rookie Semi Ojeleye acknowledged that there were many who played well in Game 3, Horford’s leadership was absolutely vital to them getting the win.
“Al, no matter what happens in a game is always even,” Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “You can always look at his face … he’s been through it before. That trickles down to everybody on the team; to the rookies, everybody. When you see someone that calm, it gives you that peace of mind.”
While Horford appreciates the praise from coaches and teammates, he really didn’t need to say much in the game’s closing moments to keep his teammates focused on the task at hand.
“I think we all understood what was at stake,” Horford said. “I always try and stay in the moment as much as I can, and I just wanted the guys to stay focused and enjoy these moments. We really just tried to stay focused on each play and go from there.”
And because of that, the Celtics now find themselves on the cusp of going back to the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight season although this run seems a lot more improbable with all the injuries and basketball-related adversity this team has had to play through.
That’s why despite their position of tremendous strength in this series, the Celtics are focused on trying to end this series on Monday – nothing beyond that matters now.
It has been that kind of thinking that has been at the forefront of the Celtics this season, something that trickles from the very top of their locker room food chain.
And that begins – and sometimes as was the case in Game 3, ends – with Al Horford.