Father Time’s arch-nemesis plays for the Boston Celtics, and his name is Al Horford. Beantown’s beloved big man blessed TD Garden with a signature performance against the Philadelphia 76ers.
In a 125-119 home win, Horford dropped a season-high 20 points on just nine shots. The Dominican veteran shot 7-of-9 from the field and 2-of-4 from three, and he added six rebounds, two blocks, and a steal.
Horford’s pair of rejections came at a crucial point early in the fourth quarter when he stuffed Tobias Harris twice in two seconds. His emphatic swats brought a rowdy Boston crowd to its feet, helping the C’s gain some much-needed momentum.
In the words of Celtics writer Taylor Snow, “Al Horford is an absolute monster.” At 37 years old, Horford continues to defy time as his game ages like a fine wine. His well-rounded skill set perfectly complements Boston’s stars, and the five-time All-Star has maintained his status as one of the best defenders in the NBA.
This season, Big Al has held opponents to 40.0% shooting when defending them. Among qualifying players who individually defend double-digit field goal attempts each night, Horford ranks second in defensive field goal percentage only behind Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Horford guards 13.5 shot attempts per game and only allows 5.4 makes per game.
Star center Kristaps Porzingis has now missed three games in a row with a left calf strain, and Horford has made the most of his opportunity to run Boston’s frontcourt. Serving as the team’s defensive anchor in the paint, the Godfather has also played brilliant offensive basketball as the lone Celtics big man.
In three contests without the 7-foot-3 Porzingis, Horford has increased both his scoring and rebounding numbers by a substantial margin. Horford has averaged 14.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists over his last three outings. He has also notched 1.3 steals per game and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting 64% from the field and 40% from three.
According to Celtics reporter Bobby Manning, head coach Joe Mazzulla praised Horford when asked about his ability to play as a starter and a bench player this season.
"He's reinvented his game with his offensive rebounding ... and helped better our defensive identity, being creative and doing some different stuff. He headlines that."- Joe Mazzulla
Simply put, Horford has done it all for the Celtics in Porzingis’ absence. His team-high +45 plus-minus over the last three games comes as no surprise. From sublime shot-blocking to supreme sharpshooting, Horford has activated “beast mode” without his Latvian teammate in action.
After the 76ers win, Horford spoke to Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston about the simple keys to his steady consistency.
"Just staying prepared … sticking to what I do, my routine. Staying solid."- Al Horford
As expected, Horford kept it lowkey when discussing his individual play. The locker-room leader cares most about the success of his teammates and how the Celtics can continue to compete and improve. For a player with an All-NBA and All-Defensive pedigree, Horford carries himself with a refreshing humility that never seems to take away from his confidence.
Superstar Jayson Tatum was ejected in a bizarre turn of events at the end of the third quarter, leaving the Celtics without their go-to guy for the rest of the contest. In his on-court interview, Horford commended his teammates for their grit and hustle in the face of adversity.
"We just had to get stops, get gritty, and just make plays … execute on offense. It was one of those really hard games. That’s just the way it is sometimes."- Al Horford
The Celtics have won all three games since Horford filled in for Porzingis, and they will look to build on their modest win streak moving forward. Tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the best record in the NBA, Boston has gone 15-4 to start the season. The C's are also a perfect 9-0 at home with the league's best net rating.
With a full weekend of rest, Porzingis may return for Boston’s upcoming In-Season Tournament Quarterfinal against the Indiana Pacers. If Porzingis still needs time to recover, the Celtics will start Father Time’s worst nightmare at center once again.