Advertisement

How Horford's connection with C's fans was key to Game 5 win vs. Cavs

How Horford's connection with C's fans was key to Game 5 win vs. Cavs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON -- A hyped-up Al Horford may have been the difference between another Boston Celtics letdown loss at home and a punched ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals.

TD Garden was noticeably quiet while the undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers kept it close in the first half of Wednesday's Game 5 matchup. That was until late in the second quarter, when Horford followed a 3-point make by forcing a Cavs turnover on the other end. His fired-up reaction brought much-needed life to the building.

Just two minutes later, Horford sent C's fans into a frenzy with his hustle. The 37-year-old jumped into Boston's bench while chasing down a loose ball and threw it off the Cavs.

Celtics star Jayson Tatum highlighted that moment as the one that flipped the switch at the Garden.

"The one play in particular when he saved the ball out of bounds in the last two minutes of the second quarter," Tatum said. "It just gave us the extra posession and pumped the crowd up, pumped our team up. Those plays -- that was so meaningful."

Horford carried his energy into the second half, picking up where he left off with a dunk, a 3-pointer, three rebounds, and an assist within the first five minutes of the third quarter. When he checked out of the game at the 6:24 mark, the fans recognized his efforts with a standing ovation.

Boston's 113-98 win couldn't have had a more fitting ending. With just under a minute to go, Horford drilled his sixth and final 3-pointer and shared one more moment with the Garden crowd.

"It's special when you're here at the Garden," Horford said. "This is something I just don't take for granted. The energy of the fans. Our fans, they love the Celtics. They want us to play hard, they want us to play the right way. And I just felt very connected with them tonight, with the way that we were playing, that we got it going.

"I felt like there was that connection there, and there was just a few times that I wanted to be embraced by them in those moments. That fuels me, that fuels our team. So, it was pretty special here tonight."

This wasn't just a bounce-back performance for Horford, who snapped an 0-for-11 streak from beyond the arc. It was historic. The five-time All-Star is the only NBA player ever to record at least 10 rebounds, five 3-pointers, five assists, and three blocks in a postseason game, per Celtics stats guru Dick Lipe. He finished with 22 points (8-15 FG, 6-13 3-PT), 15 rebounds, five assists, three blocks, and a steal in 35 minutes.

The only other players to have 20-plus points, 15 boards, and five assists at Horford's age or older are LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Asked how it felt to make history, a humble Horford kept the focus on the team.

"It feels great because we won," he said. "So, that's the only satisfaction I get out of it. You can have a game like that and if you don't get it done, you know. But I'm happy because I was able to help the team win this game. We have to give Cleveland credit. They were depleted and they just did not quit. They really pushed us to the brink."

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla, who's two years younger than Horford, spoke glowingly after the victory about Horford's leadership.

"Everybody's a leader on the team in a different way. Al leads instrumentally, not much of a talker. Tonight, you saw his gift," Mazzulla said. "His gift is just passion, inspiration, toughness, competitive nature. Obviously those games are tough, right? The other team is fighting for their lives and you're trying to play as hard as you can and you don't want to make mistakes and whatever the case may be.

"But that's who Al is as a person. You saw his personality. So I thought he was tremendous. I thought that he started it for us and all the guys responded well."

Horford took over as the Celtics' starting center throughout the series with Kristaps Porzingis out due to a calf injury. It was a grueling five games for the veteran, but he will have plenty of time to rest up for the next round. Plus, Porzingis could return in time for the series, which would revert Horford back to his sixth-man role.

Boston will take on either the New York Knicks or the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks have a 3-2 series lead heading into Friday's Game 6 in Indiana.