The Boston Celtics defeated the Miami Heat by a score of 110-105 on Monday night behind a 19-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple double from Al Horford, his first such feat as a member of the Celtics (which is somewhat surprising).
Horford’s importance to the C’s cannot be stressed enough.
As a matter of fact, since the All-Star break, the Celtics have a minus-12.8 net rating with Horford off the court, which is absolutely horrendous.
To be fair, that is a relatively small sample size, and throughout the entire regular season, Boston has a much more manageable minus-2.4 net rating when Horford sits, but that does not diminish the fact that this C’s team will go as far as Horford takes them.
Irving may be the most gifted scorer on the team and the most recognizable star. His ridiculous handles and his ability to get his shot from anywhere on the court at any given team is truly amazing, and every game, he will do something that makes you sit back and say, “Wow.”
But he isn’t the Celtics’ best player.
That title belongs to Horford, who probably makes only a couple of dazzling plays per season, if that.
Horford is akin to Tim Duncan in that regard. He is not exciting. He is not particularly fun for the casual fan to watch. But he gets the job done night in and night out and can take over a game without anyone even really noticing.
There really isn’t any area where Horford does not excel. He can post up. He can shoot. He can pass. He can defend both inside and out. He is even deceptively athletic.
Basically, Horford is an unheralded monster who will be the reason the Celtics make a deep playoff run, if that does indeed happen.
Here is what you need to ask yourself: who is actually more valuable to Boston? Horford or Irving? So, essentially, who could the C’s more ill afford to lose?
Based on what we saw last year when Irving missed the entire postseason but Horford still led the Celtics to a Game 7 of the conference finals, I think the answer is pretty clear.
Take Irving off this current Boston squad, and it would probably still have a shot to get to the finals. But remove Horford? Zero chance.
The thing with Horford is that you know exactly what you are going to get from him on a nightly basis, and he is also someone who elevates his game when the stakes get higher.
Quietly, the 32-year-old is having a great season, averaging 13.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.3 blocks over 29 minute per game while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor, 35.4 percent from three-point range and 82.4 percent from the free-throw line.
None of those stats are going to jump out at you, but they are incredibly well-rounded and efficient. Once the playoffs roll around, though, Horford’s usage will increase, as he will begin to look for his own shot more and will take it upon himself to put the C’s on his back.
Maybe not as much as last year, as Irving is now the clear-cut No. 1 scorer for the Celtics and Gordon Hayward seems to be finding his groove more and more after missing all of last season, but when the chips are down, you can bet that Brad Stevens will call some plays for Horford.
When things look like they are beginning to unravel, Horford is the steady, calming force to which the Celtics turn.
Take Monday night, for example.
Boston had let a 23-point lead almost completely evaporate in the fourth quarter, but as soon as Stevens re-inserted Horford into the game, order was restored on both ends of the court, and the C’s were able to make some big plays down the stretch to preserve the win.
But, take Horford out of that lineup, and the Celtics may very well have lost that game.
That’s why this team needs Horford to set the tone in big games and for him to settle the storm when things are going awry.
From top to bottom, the C’s are still the most talented team in the Eastern Conference, and a legitimate argument can actually be made that they should reach the finals in spite of their inconsistencies throughout the year.
For the Celtics to accomplish that feat, however, they will need Horford’s consistent presence, and they will need to lean on him when times get rough, much like those former great Boston teams before them depended on Kevin Garnett.
Kyrie gets all the press, but Horford is the true best player on this Celtics squad.