“It’s true. All of it.” Stern words said by the late galactic hero Han Solo when Rey realizes all the legends she was told was in fact true as day. She reacts amazed, astonished. Such begins the whimsical, but treacherous ride into a bold new world. This is what life is currently like for Boston fans. Going into the playoffs the team looked ready to waive the white flag. Injuries waste potentially the last year of Marcus Smart and robs us of two prime All-Star seasons from Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. It’s as if the Basketball Gods don’t want us to get this far.
No matter what this ragtag group of late draft picks and role-players ended Giannis Antetokounmpo’s season prematurely and now lead the best 1-2 punch in the conference 2 games to zilch. At home the Boston Celtics are indestructible. The mystique of the old Boston Garden carried over to the new TD Garden(Still the FleetCenter to me). The Celtics can’t seem to stay dead when they play in front of the Beantown faithful. Terry Rozier is at an All-Star level of good at home, 22.8 points in six games, 50.5% from the field. Versus 11.7 points on 27.8% shooting on the road. It’s somewhat smoke and mirrors but Boston enjoys home-court advantage throughout this series, even if Philadelphia ties this series up by Monday, I’d still feel confident in Boston going into a pressure packed Game 5.
Embiid faltered late, possessions featuring him bogged down to one-on-one everybody else standing around. Either Embiid makes the basket or misses, if it wasn’t for the early advantage Philly gained on second chance points (18-12) the Sixers would not have jumped out to a 22-point lead by the second quarter. Horford shut down Embiid forcing the dynamic center to settle for long range shots, of which he finished 1 of 6. Coming off the Miami series where he and Simmons imposed their will, it’s a drastic shift from those two being on God mode to the minuscule effect they’re having now.
Al Horford succeeded in dragging Embiid out of his work zone opening the lanes up to rim drives from T-Ro, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. What’s shocking is the Sixers were outscored by eight when Embiid was on the floor. The veteran Horford got the first step on Embiid numerous times, including the skillful layup off the feed from T-Ro. Embiid still has lots of learning to do. Perhaps the restrictions he’s been on for the season make him vulnerable in high pressure situations when the intensity is ratcheted up a level.
Embiid wasn’t even the best player for the Sixers in Game 2. J.J Redick and Robert Covington carries Philly’s offense. Rookie sensation Ben Simmons did not convert a single field goal attempt, his lone point coming from the charity stripe in the first quarter. Brad Stevens learned from coaching against Giannis for seven-games transition defense is tremendously important. Philly scored only thirteen points in the fast break, ten in preceding Game 1. While Simmons says his did of a Game was “self inflicted”, may be right, it doesn’t negate the Celtics walling off B.S comfort zone near the basket begging him to shoot every-time he touches the ball. Maybe at home, away from the disruptive confines of Boston Simmons can regain his prowess. It’s certainly possible.
But none of this is possible without Al Horford solidifying himself not just worth his max contract but making a strong candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Ripping off a postseason run reminiscent of Bill Walton of 1977 and Pau Gasol of 2010. Horford is everything to this Celtics team, there’s so much truth to the fact he does more “beyond the box score.” A sentiment usually ridiculed by those in the toxic Boston sports media.
Bill Walton, ‘77 Postseason:
18.2 PPG, 15.2 RPG, 5.5 APG, 50.7 fg%, 19.7 P.E.R, .162 WS/48, ORtg N/A
Pau Gasol, ‘10 Postseason:
19.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 53.9 fg%, 24 P.E.R, .224 WS/48, 126 ORtg
Al Horford ‘18 Postseason:
18.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 61.4 fg%, 23.3 P.E.R, .228, 129 ORtg
Players who’ve averaged more than 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a block in the playoffs are usually the shot blocking lane clogger kind of center (David Robinson and Ralph Sampson) and dynamic forwards (LeBron, Barkley, Durant). But for a non-traditionalist big like Horford, someone who wishes he shot the three ball sooner in his career, it’s quite the accomplishment given the duration of the Celtics run and what he was saddled with this start.
Do the Celtics have enough magic in them to continue this improbable run on Saturday nightat the Wells Fargo arenain Philadelphia? Eh. I doubt it. But with home court advantage it is not inconceivable the Celtics Win this series in 7 and have a date with LeBron in a East-Finals rematch.
And then… I don’t know what I’ll think.