Celtics Hold Off Heat Rally Behind Al Horford’s Triple-Double

BOSTON – Al Horford found himself in a familiar statistical situation late Monday night at TD Garden, where he and the Celtics were in the midst of a fourth-quarter battle against the Miami Heat. With three minutes remaining, he had 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists under his belt. The prestigious triple-double was in sight, but Horford knows as well as anyone how hard it can be to complete the feat.

On several occasions during his two-plus seasons with the C’s, Horford had knocked on the door of a triple-double, including four times where he had fallen either one point or one assist short.

This time, Horford received a little nudge from his wife Amelia, with whom he locked eyes late in the fourth quarter while she was sitting half a dozen rows back at center court.

“She was like, 'Better get it. You got one rebound, one assist,'” Horford recalled later on with a chuckle. “She just kept looking at me and I was like, 'I got you, I got you.'”

Moments later, he delivered in the assist category, as he dished an overhead pass to a Jayson Tatum, who cut across the top of the free-throw arc and knocked down a mid-range jumper – thanks to a lucky bounce from the back of the rim – to give the C’s a 103-96 lead with 2:54 left.

That left Horford with just a handful of possessions remaining to corral that final rebound.

The Heat wouldn’t make things easy on him, however as they connected on their next two shots attempts, leaving Horford with less than two minutes to get his 10th board.

Finally, at the 1:29 mark, Dion Waiters gave Horford exactly what he was looking for.

With his team trailing 103-100, Waiters rose up for a potential game-tying 3-pointer. As the ball sailed through the air, Horford sidestepped into the paint and then watched as it grazed the inner front of the rim and caromed high off the back, before snatching it out of the air.

From there, Horford handed the ball off to Kyrie Irving, who sprinted the length of the floor for an and-one layup. Irving went on to sink his free throw, putting the C’s ahead by six points and giving them enough breathing room to eventually walk away with a 110-105 win.

For Horford, the win was all that mattered, but it was still relieving to finally earn that long-awaited triple-double of 19 points, 11 rebound and 10 assists after falling short of the feat on so many occasions.

“It feels good. There’s been a lot of games like that,” Horford reflected. “I just try to continue to play the right way and I'm glad it worked out in my favor.”

Horford’s teammates were also aware of his close brushes with triple-doubles in the past, so they, too, were ecstatic to see him finally get over the hump.

“Al is a great player, a great guy, a great teammate, he does everything right, and he’s a winner,” said Marcus Smart, who tallied 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field. “He deserves every accolade, every award, and every mention that his name has, so we’re happy for him.”

For Horford, it was just his second career triple-double, having logged a 21-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist effort back on Jan. 13, 2015 when he was a member of the Atlanta Hawks.

Not many NBA big men approach triple-double numbers on a regular basis like Horford, but his unique skillset, especially when he’s playing at the 4 like he was for most of Monday night’s matchup, allows him to contribute to the game in so many ways.

“Versatility is what makes him very special, being able to play the 4 and 5 spot,” said Kyrie Irving, who notched 25 point and eight rebounds. “But when he’s in that four spot he’s able to facilitate, post up, make great passes, make great plays. It helps us as a team.”

Horford’s help went far beyond the box score Monday night, as his presence alone helped to make the difference in the game. Miami stormed back from a 23-point deficit, largely thanks to their implementation of a zone defense. Boston’s best answer to that adjustment, according to Stevens, was Horford.

“He played in the middle of that zone a lot, and I thought when he did, we were at our best,” said the coach. “I don’t think we can overstate his importance to our team.”

Horford’s overall importance isn’t something that can always show up in print, but his impact Monday night was clear as day in the form of a well-deserved, and long-awaited triple-double.

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