BOSTON -- When the Celtics acquired Kristaps Porzingis over the summer, veteran Al Horford knew he would have to take a bit of a back seat. The consummate professional that he is, the veteran didn't mind one bit.
But given Porzingis' injury history, it was likely that Horford would still be called upon to give Boston some big minutes and a vintage Al Horford performance here and there. Wednesday night against the 76ers was one of those evenings, with Horford reminding everyone that he still has a lot left in the tank.
With Porzingis out with a right knee contusion, Horford got the start and the tough task of bumping bodies with Joel Embiid. Horford was more than up to the challenge, putting forth his best stretch of basketball this season in the second half of Boston's 117-107 road victory.
The shorthanded Celtics -- who were also without an under-the-weather Jaylen Brown -- jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter but the Sixers came storming back in the second and led by a point at halftime. The Celtics had a couple of good excuses to drop this road tilt, but that isn't how the team is operating this season.
Even without Porzingis and Brown, the Celtics still have a solid amount of talent on the roster. Jayson Tatum effortlessly led the team with 29 points, and Derrick White stepped up with 27 of his own to go with a slew of smart plays. Jrue Holiday added 18 points, 10 rebounds, and some outstanding defense on Philly's Tyrese Maxey.
But the win probably wouldn't have happened without Al, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half. The Sixers left him wide open at the top of the key midway through the third quarter, and Horford calmly drained the shot, putting the Celtics back on top 70-69. It would take Boston a few minutes to pull away, but they never trailed after that Horford triple.
Horford was feeling it from downtown, hitting four of his six attempts after starting the season just 6-for-26 from deep. He hit a corner three with 2:32 left on the clock to put the Celtics up by eight and essentially seal Philadelphia's fate.
With Horford feeling it from deep in the second half, the rest of the floor opened up for his teammates. But where Horford really made his impact was on the defensive end, and it wasn't just against Embiid.
He helped limit the Philly big man to just 20 points, and Embiid was a minus-25 for the contest. Horford has always been solid against Embiid in their matchups, but it remains impressive when the 37-year-old can limit the Sixers behemoth. And when other Sixers tried to get some easy points in the paint, Horford was there to make life difficult.
He blocked five shots, his most in a game over the last two seasons, and four of those rejections came over the final 24 minutes of the contest. Both of his blocks in the fourth quarter came at key moments, and they both led to Boston 3-pointers.
After Tatum completed a three-point play to put Boston up by four points with 5:10 left, Horford rejected a driving Maxey to set up a White three on the other end. Then with just over a minute to go, Horford sent back a layup attempt by Robert Covington. Boston's ensuing possession ended with a driving White hitting Tatum with a perfect feed for a dagger three, sending Philly fans home disappointed that their team had lost to a shorthanded Celtics squad.
Horford loves to return to Philly, where the fans aren't too fond of him after his brief and expensive stint with the team. The Sixers faithful always lets Al hear it when he's back in Wells Fargo Center, but he feeds off that noise and embraces it.
Just like he's embraced his reserve role with this year's Celtics. And the lesser workload will work wonders when it comes to preserving the veteran for the postseason.
But Wednesday night was a reminder that Al can still put out a vintage performance when called upon. Father Time may come calling soon, but Horford isn't ready to answer just yet.
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