Healthy Al Horford Leads the Celtics to Consecutive Road Wins

The Celtics are finally healthy and are therefore winning more games. Crazy, right?

For the first time since ending the Warrior’s 54 game home winning streak last April, the Celtics faced off against the Dubs in Boston for what turned out to be the second most interesting game of that week. Part of me was holding out hope that Kevin Durant might walk off the court thinking he made the wrong decision in turning down Boston to play with Golden State, but part of me also knew that having two starters not playing might be too much to overcome. Without Horford and Crowder, Boston trailed Golden State by about 30 in the second half thanks to a 31-9 run, or as we like to call it, the third quarter. While that deficit whittled down to 11 towards the end, it was too little too late.

These are the kind of games you can’t ignore because you want to know how your favorite team compares to the best in the business, but it’s also a game that’s hard to put under the microscope and ask “what really went on here?” Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson combined hit 22 out of 34 shots, and the Warriors are much, much longer than Boston. That was that.

Saturday night, the Celtics had a chance to do what they apparently do best in Detroit, and break another home winning streak. Five wins in a row are slightly less than 54, but the Pistons won those games without Reggie Jackson and without giving up 90 points in any of them, including against Oklahoma City. By the final score of 94-92, the Celtics ended both of those streaks at once, while showing excellent progress towards sorting out their struggles from their first dozen games. Note that “sorting out” isn’t always solving.

The most encouraging signs for me were that the leading rebounder for Boston was not Avery Bradley and that the leading rebounder was Al Horford. Horford’s 11 rebounds were dwarfed by Drummond’s 17, but the benefit to playing against Drummond is that if you find yourself in a close game, you get a lot of possessions at the end where Drummond is sidelined to avoid being hack-a-Shaq’d. Boston led by as much as nine in the third quarter but swiftly surrendered that lead when the starters (minus Isaiah Thomas) turned the game over to the bench to end the quarter. The absence of Jackson and the risk of Drummond having to shoot free throws left the Pistons with very few options in the fourth quarter, while the Celtics scrapped their way to an Al Horford putback with 1.3 remaining to give them a two-point lead. The fate of the Pistons fell into the hands of Aron Baynes. The rest is history, and it probably left a mark on Horford's forearm.  

Monday night in Minnesota presented its own challenges. Minnesota, as advertised, outplayed the Celtics in the first half and led by 10 at the break. Their lead ballooned to 15 before the Celtics came roaring back, led by one of the least likely heroes – Terry Rozier. Isaiah wasn’t on the floor for much of the comeback but made more noise from the bench than Minnesota’s crowd at the most critical juncture of the game.

Horford’s six rebounds tied Marcus Smart for the team lead, marking the second straight game where Avery Bradley did not lead the team in rebounding. It also marks the second straight game where the Celtics outscored their opponent in the first and fourth quarters while being outscored in the other two, and notably getting blown out in at least one. The same was almost true against Golden State, except they trailed by two after that first quarter.

The most curious numbers from Monday night were the plus/minus, where Jerebko’s +20 led the team while Jaylen Brown had the next best rating at +15. They combined for just five points, five rebounds, one assist, and one steal while playing 19 and 13 minutes respectively. Rozier’s 12 points in 16 minutes were crucial to the comeback, yet he was at a respectable +10 for the game. I don’t value plus/minus very highly, but sometimes it’s all a player can show for when the rest of their box score stats (See: Jerebko and Brown) are relatively non-existent.

Up next is the road trip finale against our second favorite eastern conference team (for all the wrong reasons): Brooklyn. Brooklyn is 4-9 and has already dropped a game to Boston this year, but I’m sure they’ll be thinking about how often we check the scores just to enjoy their pain when Boston rolls into town on Wednesday. Don't expect a free win when a team with a chip on its shoulder plays the team that put it there. 

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