With twelve games left in the regular season, it’s time to start planning for the playoffs. After the Celtics eked out a 129-120 win over the visiting Hawks, head coach Brad Stevens talked about the plan to give Al Horford 3-4 games off before the regular season wraps up on April 9th.
Boston sits at 43-27 with work to do to jump to the #3 or #4 seed (two games back in the loss column behind Indiana and Philadelphia) and gain home court advantage in the first round, but they’ll be cautious with one of their most important players on the roster.
Horford came out of Saturday afternoon’s game with 8:10 left in the third quarter. The Celtics had a comfortable 15-point lead that grew to 25. Horford had bumped knees earlier in the game and didn’t feel right at halftime. The pain, however, was unrelated to the patellar tendinitis he recovered from earlier in the season. When the lead narrowed, he felt good enough midway through the 4th to return and finished with nine points, six rebounds, and 3 assists.
Thankfully, the Celtics have only two games over the next week, but they’re big. They host the Nuggets on Monday and then travel to Philadelphia on Thursday. Looking forward, the Celtics have two remaining back-to-backs on the schedule: at Charlotte (3/23) and then home to San Antonio (3/24) and Indiana (3/29) then at Brooklyn (3/30). Horford will most likely miss two of those four in the coming weeks.
Preserving the 32-year-old for the post season isn’t something new. Last year, Horford missed five of the final sixteen games. That rest has allowed Average Al to turn into Playoff Al. He’s averaged an efficient 15/7/4 and been an impact defender over the last two post seasons and they’ll need him at his best with potential match ups against Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo on the horizon.