Al Horford’s most touted missing link on his career achievements list is similar to most great players in the east going back to 2010. LeBron James teams have tormented him between his days with the Celtics and Hawks.
Before last year’s miraculous Marcus Smart game in the east finals, Horford had yet to defeat a James team in the playoffs in 11 match-ups. After a 4-1 loss in that series, he sits at 1-15 in his career in those vital spring match-ups. Brad Stevens suffers to dates as well at 1-8 against James in the playoffs. The Kyrie Irving trade represented a hopeful shakeup in that matchup.
With both teams running small lineups on Wednesday, it was difficult to look anywhere but the Kevin Love and Al Horford battle at center. Free from Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson and other centers Cleveland has thrown at Horford to physically disrupt him, he was able to completely isolate Love and dominate the matchup.
Horford looked as visibly free and comfortable as he ever has been against the Cavaliers. He initially struggled to unload two off-balance shots, but shutout Love who shot 0-of-7 while Boston took a 17-11 lead. While Horford grabbed two offensive rebounds on one possession during that sequence, Love air-mailed two straight layups on one of Cleveland’s.
The discrepancy between Horford and Love in the Celtics’ 102-88 could be extrapolated to the entire game. LeBron James (19 points) and Kyrie Irving (11) both sat quiet after trading shots early, and James’ supporting cast faltered while Irving’s thrived.
As Love chased Irving with the on-ball defender on a pick-and-roll, Horford sailed to the basket over Jeff Green’s head with a vicious slam.
But to many, that meant absolutely nothing. Including FearTheSword’s Justin Rowan, who joined CelticsBlog’s podcast this week. The popular topic of the Cavaliers coasting has emerged once again, robbing Celts from claiming a statement win in many analysts minds. Rowan, in his breakdown of Cleveland, still wonders how the Cavs can beat the Warriors with no worries of an east threat.
Rowan and I discussed that perception, along with Horford and the lineup complexion of the two teams, Isaiah Thomas’ season debut and how important he’ll be to Cleveland and Jackie MacMullan’s Irving trade article.
1:40-6:10 Cavaliers “not trying”
6:10-12:02 LeBron James
12:02-17:05 Catching up with the Cavs
17:05-26:13 Kyrie Irving Jackie MacMullan details, trade revisited
26:13-32:00 Irving’s play with Celtics
32:00-38:00 Isaiah Thomas is back
38:00-45:12 Al Horford’s breakout vs. Cavs
45:12-48:19 Big man upgrade for Cleveland, Nets pick?