Al Horford scored his first points 14 seconds into the fourth quarter, after taking only two shots in the first half and none in the third.
The low offensive production was understandable. He had warned the coaching and training staff he was sick the night before, and missed Wednesday morning’s shootaround. He warmed up before the game, admittedly didn’t feel at full strength, but decided after a pregame workout he was ready.
So he played the entire fourth quarter – 37 minutes overall – scored the first four points of the fourth in the Celtics’ 99-91 Game 2 win over Indiana, and delivered the game’s signature defensive play with a block of Bojan Bogdanovic with 58.4 seconds left.
“Yeah, you know, I had a virus, just trying to do everything I could to get back on the floor, and glad I was able to come out tonight and help the team,” Horford said. “I prepared myself like a normal game, just focused on the game. I just missed shootaround and besides that, I was mentally watching film, doing things I had to do to be ready to go.”
That first basket of the fourth – a post-up – was a particularly effective means for Horford to get rolling.
“They did a really good job of really doubling me in the post and showing me different looks,” Horford said. “Coach drew up that play early in the fourth to go score and they weren’t able to come help, and I took advantage, and I was able to go score.
“At that point, it’s whatever I can to help our team win,” he said. “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 happiness was more than reciprocated.
“Tip my hat to Al, true warrior, true professional,” Jaylen Brown said. “He gave us everything he had, and everyone knows he’s battling an illness. He came out and was tremendous for us.”
Leave it to stat guru Dick Lipe to uncover a rather hideous streak the Celtics managed to break Wednesday night.
By coming back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Indiana, the Celtics broke a playoff slump of 33 straight losses when trailing by 11 or more points in the fourth quarter. The streak dates back to their 21-point comeback to beat the Nets in Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals.
Leaving Hoosier roots
It’s now a part of Brad Stevens lore that the Celtics coach wore No. 31 in high school in honor of Pacers legend Reggie Miller.
And though he’s returned to Indianapolis repeatedly in his NBA coaching career, he’s about to undergo his first prolonged experience as an opponent in his home state thanks to the Celtics’ first-round series against the Pacers.
“I think if I would I’d say it’s surreal, right?” he said before Wednesday night’s game. “Because I’m an Indiana kid and basketball in that state is really, really important to me. That being said, (I) stay in this world of focus ahead and focus on what’s next and I’ll look back on it after the fact. When we go to Indiana, I’ll be holed up in my hotel room and I’ll see people in the summer. We got a job to do, so we’re really focused on that.”
A familiar place
The Celtics had something of a double bonus heading into this series, starting with the education from reaching the conference finals each of the last two seasons. Then there’s the benefit of playing Indiana twice over the last month of the regular season.
“I just think you know what you want to get in prior to the start of a series,” Stevens said of preparation. “You know – or you try to keep it to only what’s important. And I think one of the things I’ve learned over time – and I think you know this, but it becomes even more obvious – the first year we played in the playoffs when we were the seven-seed against LeBron (James) and Kyrie (Irving) and that group, obviously we were not at their level, but at the end of the day it was still transitioning and rebounding that beats you.
“So all this stuff, the talk about different things people can do technically and everything else, you still have to play with incredible discipline on the glass and in transition,” he said. “And part of that is taking care of the ball. So yes, the preparation, you need to get in what you need to get in. But you need to be able to play this fast game with a clear mind and fresh legs, and I think that’s a big, big part of our preparation.”