12/3 Game Preview: Celtics at 76ers
Al Horford might finally be hitting his stride for the Boston Celtics, who open a three-game road trip against the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.
Horford signed a four-year, $113 million free agent contract with the Celtics in the offseason and on Friday scored a season-high 26 points as Boston held off the Sacramento Kings 97-92.
Horford, who spent his first nine seasons with Atlanta, made 10 of 18 shots from the floor (including 4-of-7 from 3-point range). He added eight rebounds and six blocked shots, another season high. It was also one shy of his career high.
The biggest of the six came on a 3-point attempt by Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins in the closing seconds. The Kings trailed just 95-92 at the time, and Cousins attempted to bait Horford into a foul, to no avail. He swatted the shot, recovered the loose ball and hit the two clinching free throws with 4.8 seconds remaining.
"I know he tried to draw something there," Horford told the Boston Globe, "but I just stayed solid and did not let him get a shot off."
Horford has appeared in just nine games this season for Boston (11-8). He missed nine others while in the concussion protocol, and also skipped Monday's victory over Miami so he could be with his wife, Amelia Vega, as she gave birth to the couple's second child, a daughter named Alia.
Horford managed just five shots while scoring nine points in more than 31 minutes of Wednesday's loss to Detroit but asserted himself Friday.
"He wanted to come out and be aggressive," Celtics forward Jae Crowder told the Globe. "We wanted to give him the ball, get him some touches early."
Crowder has appeared in 11 games to date, having missed eight with a sprained left ankle.
With the lineup in a state of flux most of the season, Boston's guards have excelled. Isaiah Thomas is averaging 25.7 points per game, including 20 on Friday against Sacramento, and Avery Bradley is generating 17.6. He scored 16 against the Kings.
Philadelphia (4-15) shot just 37.9 percent from the floor in Friday's 105-88 loss to Orlando, the Sixers' fifth straight defeat. They had not played since losing Monday night in Toronto but trailed by as many as 29 points in losing to the Magic, who the night before frittered away a 13-point lead in the last 6:12 while losing in Memphis.
"Sometimes you read so much into back-to-backs," Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. "You assume people are tired or depressed, because they lost at the buzzer. I give them credit. They came in and played with great energy. I don't know how to explain that."
Embiid, the rookie center, piled up 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Sixers. He will not play against the Celtics, however. The team is not using him in back-to-back games, as he is playing his first season after missing two after two foot surgeries.
Veteran guard Jerryd Bayless also missed his third straight game with a sore left wrist Friday, and forward Robert Covington left in the fourth quarter with a sprained left knee. The status of both is in question for Saturday's game.