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Al Horford 1, Giannis Antetokounmpo 0

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Playoff Al was the key to the Celtics’ Game 1 win over the presumptive MVP and his Bucks.

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Four Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In the first round against Indiana, Al Horford was, well, average. He averaged just 11 points on 34% shooting in the sweep of the Pacers, but his impact can rarely be measured by statistics alone. In Game 1 against the Bucks, Horford shed that “Average Al” moniker and turned in his best game of the playoffs so far.

“We’ve said all year: you can’t overstate Al Horford’s importance to our team. Obviously, the numbers back that up, but just his ability to stretch the floor against size and post smalls,” Brad Stevens said about his big man in a 112-90 win in Milwaukee.

Horford scored 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting. He stretched the floor, hitting 3 of his 5 three-pointers, and punished the Bucks in the mid-range. It’s that versatile game that makes him such an integral part to Boston’s offense, whether he’s serving as the hub of the wheel or finishing plays. Many of his looks came from his pick-and-pop game with Kyrie Irving.

“[Our pick-and-pop game] is very vital for our offense. It bring continuity. It brings spacing, especially when we’re in the right spots,” Irving said of his on court play with Horford.

“When we’re staying disciplined in our half court offense and we have match ups that we want to go at, Al knows where I’m going to be getting downhill. We communicate throughout the game about where we want our pick-and-roll offense to be, how we can be more efficient, so I don’t miss him on easy shots or easy opportunities that he can make for others.”

Gordon Hayward also recognized the importance of Horford. “He was the Al Horford we all know and love, knocking down shots, being able to space the floor. Also, taking advantage of smaller guys in the post and around the rim. And then defensively, he was all over the place.”

Going into this semi-finals series with the Bucks, how Horford would slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo was the most anticipated match up. During the regular season, Giannis averaged a -17 when Horford was on the floor. On Sunday afternnon, the presumptive MVP was a team worst -24 and hit just 7-of-21 of his shots, including 3 threes. He was stymied in the paint and had just two assists with two turnovers.

While Antetokounmpo was his primary assignment, Horford credited the team on their approach and focus in defending The Greek Freak.

“He’s such a great player. Our focus was to make sure that we made it tough on him every time,” Horford said. “All our guys were on him at different times, involved in the play, just making sure that he earned everything he got and I felt like we did a really good job of that.”