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Horford explains how C's showed ‘growth' in Game 5 win vs. Heat

Horford explains how C's showed ‘growth' in Game 5 win vs. Heat originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics still have a long road to the NBA Finals, but they took a significant step forward with their first-round series triumph.

Not only did the Celtics avenge their 2023 Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat, but they did so in dominant fashion in front of their home crowd. They closed out the series with a wire-to-wire 118-84 Game 5 win at TD Garden.

They were in an identical situation in the first round of last year's NBA playoffs. With the chance to eliminate the Atlanta Hawks at home in Game 5, they fell short in a 119-117 loss that brought the series back to Atlanta. Although Boston won the series on the road, it's clear that failing to finish the job at the Garden didn't sit well with the team.

On Friday, veteran big man Al Horford spoke highly of how the C's took care of business at home this time around.

"I was very proud of the group, of how focused we were on the challenge and understanding that we needed to handle Game 5 at home properly," Horford told reporters. "And from the beginning of the game and throughout, we were able to maintain that.

"That shows maturity, that shows growth. The year before, we had an opportunity against the Hawks to do the same thing and we couldn't get it done, so I am encouraged to see that. We also have to continue to have that mindset, especially with this next challenge in this next round coming up."

Horford played an important role in the Celtics' series-clinching victory. With Kristaps Porzingis out due to a calf injury, the 37-year-old took his spot in the starting lineup and tallied eight points, six rebounds, three assists, and a steal in 23 minutes.

He'll likely remain Boston's starting center for the foreseeable future with Porzingis expected to miss the Eastern Conference semifinals. Luke Kornet, who was a +21 in 18 minutes while playing outstanding defense on Heat star Bam Adebayo in Game 5, will step up as the first big off the bench.

The Celtics will meet either the Orlando Magic or Cleveland Cavaliers in the next round of the NBA playoffs. Cleveland has a 3-2 series lead over Orlando heading into Friday's Game 6 showdown.