BOSTON – Kyrie Irving was dominant as ever with 36 points in Boston's 108-97 win over Philadelphia. Marcus Morris provided some major scoring punch off the bench with 17 points – one short of equaling his season high with the Celtics.
But lost in the success of Boston's victory was the play of Al Horford, an all-too-common occurrence when it comes to the Celtics and their veteran big man.
Horford was once again having one of those stat-stuffing kind of nights, finishing with 21 points on an efficient 9-for-12 shooting. He battled around the rim and finished with eight rebounds. He was once again getting his teammates involved whenever he could, finishing with five assists, which was tops among Boston's starters. He also blocked a couple shots and had a plus/minus of +10 which led all Boston starters.
The numbers don't wow you, but they serve as yet another reminder of how stealth Horford's impact can be on winning.
But make no mistake about it.
The play of Horford does not go unnoticed, especially by opponents.
Following the Sixers loss, Philadelphia's J.J. Redick was asked about the 1-2 punch of Irving and Horford.
"Kyrie is obviously amazing, but Horford probably doesn't get enough credit for how good he is offensively," said Redick who had 17 points which included shooting 4-for-6 from 3-point range. "One of the reasons is because of the way he pops and sort of the problems that presents; whether that's shooting threes, or attacking close outs, or catching and running into another pick and roll."
The Sixers know all about Horford's versatility.
When the two met earlier this season, Horford wound up defending Joel Embiid at various points in the game, and would later switch out and guard Ben Simmons who is the front-runner for the league's Rookie of the Year award. He also managed a near double-double with 17 points and nine rebounds.
Earlier tonight, Horford and the Celtics caught a break with Embiid (rest) not with the team.
But that still didn't stop Horford from having to defend multiple players with varying levels of athleticism, quickness and size.
And Horford's ability to do so effectively has been among the reasons why the Boston Celtics have been one of the best teams in the NBA this season.
"We were playing the Boston Celtics, the best team in basketball and I give them credit on doing some good things defensively," said Sixers head coach Brett Brown.
And that defense, much like most of what the Celtics have done well this season, originates in large part by what Horford has brought to the game this season.
"As good as Kyrie is offensively, it's almost like Horford is the sort of the hub of everything they do," Redick said. "And because he's so versatile, it creates all sorts of issues."