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Managing Al Horford’s minutes key for Celtics

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Preserving Al Horford has been of the utmost importance to Boston.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not really a secret that when Al Horford suits up, the Celtics are a much better unit on both ends of the floor and the C’s have been careful with their veteran big man in his 12th NBA season. Horford has been hampered by left knee soreness and sat out three of the last five games – Boston lost all three of those games Horford didn’t play against Charlotte, San Antonio, and most recently, Brooklyn. But at Monday’s morning shootaround, Brad Stevens confirmed that Horford is expected to play tonight against the Miami Heat and most likely won’t have a minutes restriction.

Trying to preserve Horford is a clear objective for Stevens in hopes that the rest will help him be at full-go with the postseason looming.

“It’s been a huge emphasis, obviously, to sit him out twice in the last couple of games,” said Stevens at the shootaround. “We tried to monitor him a little bit in the Cleveland game, especially. Ultimately, he’s really important to us. There’s no question about it. Playing either the five or the four, we’re going to need him to play at a high level and he’s been great the better part of the second half of the year and we all know what he’s been like in the playoffs the last couple of years.”

Horford has been nothing but steady in the postseason the last two seasons, taking his play up a notch from the regular season by averaging just over 15 points per game. Last year in the playoffs, he shot 54.4 percent from the floor and led the C’s in rebounding with 8.3 boards per game.

It’s that same type of production, along with Horford’s defensive prowess and on-court leadership, the Celtics seek come this postseason, especially with not many other premiere options to turn toward at the position.

While Aron Baynes has returned from injury, he can’t provide the same level of offensive playmaking and Robert Williams III’s inexperience won’t buy him too many postseason minutes. The signing of Greg Monroe feels more like insurance in case a big man goes down and Daniel Theis can’t make the all-around impact that Horford continually demonstrates.

So while Horford is averaging under 30 minutes a game for the first time in his career, it’s all in an effort to ramp him up once the postseason comes so that he can make a deep impact and once again turn into Playoff Al.

“That’s something you have to manage appropriately with everybody, but certainly it’s been a huge emphasis with him,” Stevens said. “We’re not as deep at that spot as far as how he plays. He gives us a different dimension with his ability to stretch the floor and guard smaller guys as well.”