Al Horford has been somewhat maligned during this improbable Boston Celtics season — one in which his steady, durable greatness has been put into sharp relief by injuries wiping out Gordon Hayward’s season before it truly began and cutting Kyrie Irving’s campaign short — for not being more of a scorer.
The unselfish, efficient Horford averaged just 12.9 points per game in the regular season, and that was enough for some to knock the entirety of his efforts in piloting the Celtics to the No. 2 seed with a cast of young and unsung players around him.
Horford has upped his game in these NBA playoffs, though, scoring a career-high 17.9 points per game this postseason — and, on Saturday, he had his best moment of the year when the Celtics needed him most.
The Celtics gave up a buzzer-beater to Marco Bellinelli to force overtime. In that overtime — and after confetti fell — with Boston trailing the feisty, precocious Philadelphia 76ers by a point and under 10 seconds to go, Horford got the ball on a tricky inbounds pass (one of several great calls made by Celtics coach Brad Stevens) and laid it in to put the Cs up with 5.5 seconds left.
And then he one-upped himself with the best defensive play of this NBA postseason — a heady, daring theft of the ball on Philly’s subsequent inbounds play.
Without question, tonight’s @JetBlue Play of the Game goes to @Al_Horford, who gets the go-ahead bucket in OT, steals it on the other end, and hits his free throws to seal the deal. pic.twitter.com/8tCLOltaYn— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 6, 2018
Horford would also knock down two free throws to push Boston’s margin to three, and the Sixers couldn’t manage another buzzer-beater, giving the Celtics a 101-98 overtime win and a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
Horford, whose 13 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and two steals in a thrilling road victory were just the latest statistical points in a postseason so superlative that his team is calling him “Playoff Al,” would probably have had the best game and moment in the NBA postseason on most other nights this spring.
Last night, of course, he had the misfortune to play brilliantly just before the greatest player of his generation took the floor to score 38 points and kiss an impossible floater off glass at the end of regulation to score his second playoff buzzer-beater in three weeks and all but vaporize the Toronto Raptors.
But is there really any shame in being second to LeBron James?