Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo fell to the ground and slammed the ball into Al Horford, the 35-year-old Boston Celtics center to whom he was awarded as the second half of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals began Monday night. the slowdown task of the two-time Most Valuable Player Award winner.
The Bucks had all the momentum of the game and were on the verge of putting the Celtics on the ropes in the series.
And then Antetokounmpo miscalculated. He followed her dunk by fixing the daggers at Horford and received a technician for mockery. Horford looked back, nodding several times.
“The way he was looking at me and the way he was doing didn’t really suit me,” Horford told reporters after the game. “And at that point I think something has changed with me.”
Horford has turned into one of the best performances of his career. He scored 16 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Celtics to a 116-108 win that drew the series, 2-2.
At least two of his points were a bit of a rematch directly on Antetokounmpo: a dunk in the fourth quarter above the Bucks star who saw the typical reserved Horford let out a scream.
In Horford’s previous 131 playoff games, he had never scored 30 points in a game. In doing so, however, he may have saved the Celtics season.
“We love Al, “said Marcus Smart, Celtics guard.” He’s the best vet we’ve ever had. The best vet I’ve ever had. You know, he comes in and never changes with him. Things are bad or good, he’ll be. Nine times out of 10, it will work in our favor. “
Monday’s performance was made even more impressive by the fact that, entering the 2020-21 season, Horford was in the basketball wilderness.
He had just finished a disappointing season with the Philadelphia 76ers after signing a deal worth over $ 100 million. Horford, five times All Star, was transferred to the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder, which had little use of the aging center in the mid-1930s. The Sixers had to attach a first-round draft pick just to get the Thunder to consider the deal. And then Horford was closed in the middle of the season. Not because he was injured or played so badly. But because he didn’t fit in Oklahoma City.
Brad Stevens, the new president of the Celtics, traded Kemba Walker, another former All-Star with limited productivity in recent years, for Horford, a player he had coached in Boston for three seasons from 2016 to 2019.
It was thought to be a low impact move. What could a past center, his slow-moving first move, provide for a young Celtics team looking to become more athletic?
Quite a bit, it turned out. Horford played 69 games for Boston during the regular season, helping to anchor one of the league’s best defenses. In the first round against the Nets, Horford averaged 13 points and 7.5 rebounds and shot 60% from 3 points.
“I feel like last summer, I realized I had to take it to another level, “Horford said.” We really started with the summer and continued the season. And now these are the moments I want to be a part of.. “
His motivation, he added, was simple: “This comes from sitting at home. It’s for watching the playoffs. This is due to not knowing what the future holds and really hoping to have the opportunity to find myself in this type of environment “.
Against the Bucks, Horford was Antetokounmpo’s main defender. It’s a more challenging match than one might expect: Antetokounmpo can’t crush Horford as easily as most defenders do. And Horford, even at this stage of his career, is mobile enough to prevent Antetokounmpo from overtaking him by leaps and bounds.
Antetokounmpo scored 34 points on Monday but needed 32 shots to get them.
Horford’s biggest contribution, meanwhile, was his shot. On Monday, Horford made 5 of his 7 3-point attempts. The rest of the combo is 9/30. In several cases, Horford’s baskets came when it seemed the Bucks were on the verge of retiring.
For the Celtics to win this series, they will need to keep hitting their deep jumpers as they don’t get constant access to the basket due to the edge protection of Antetokounmpo, former Defender of the Year, and Brook Lopez, the Bucks’ massive center.
In Game 2, the Celtics shot 20 of 43 from behind the 3-point line – a whopping 46.5 percent. They won the game in a blast. With Horford hitting his shots in Game 4, the Celtics were able to stretch the floor again and that allowed Jayson Tatum to find more room to navigate the paint. He recovered from a sad game 3 a Horford game with 30 points on Mondayincluding several key baskets along the stretch.
A few red flags remain, however, for Boston in the series. Both of his wins required unusual performances – an unusually good 3-point shot and Horford’s brilliance in Game 4 – and the Bucks still have the best player of both teams in Antetokounmpo.
Milwaukee, due to its size, was also able to enter the lane more easily. This produces a more reliable offense and puts pressure on the referees to call fouls.
And other Boston players will have to hit the shots. Horford, 35, is unlikely to be able to keep up on Monday, both in shots and goals. And in most games, if Horford is the best player on a Boston team with Tatum and Jaylen Brown, something is wrong.
Just not Monday night.
“Al, man, “Smart said, praising Horford even more.” He’s been doing this for a long time and he understands what it brings to the game and the team. And we need every last bit of it every night we can. So he’s a big, big, great, great, great, and I mean this, great key, To which is with us. “