In Wednesday night’s season opener, Jaylen Brown turned in an inspiring, 46-point effort despite being less than 24 hours removed from the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols.
In Friday night’s home opener, it was Al Horford’s turn to do the same.
No, Horford didn’t drop 46 into the scoring column like his All-Star teammate did. But he did turn in an admirable performance for a 15-year veteran who had just spent the past week and a half in COVID isolation, logging a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds to go along with two assists and four blocked shots against the visiting Toronto Raptors.
Horford was the best Celtics player on the floor Friday night, just like Brown had been two nights prior. Unfortunately, both performances also shared a commonality in the loss column, as the C’s fell to the Raptors 115-83 at TD Garden less than 48 hours after suffering a 138-135 double-overtime loss at Madison Square Garden.
It wasn’t the type of result Horford was hoping for in his anticipated return to TD Garden. But at the end of the day, he was just thankful to be healthy and back on the court in front of the Boston fanbase.
“I was just happy to get back out there with the group in front of our home crowd here tonight,” Horford said after the game. “I’ll have to continue to get to where I need to be as far as my wind and all that stuff. But I felt fine. Was definitely a little tired at times there, but it was just good to be back playing with the group.”
Knowing that fatigue could be a factor due to the nature of his absence, the Celtics were cautious in reintegrating Horford and capped him at 25 minutes. He seemed to respond well to that number, and even had some energy left over.
“He actually wanted to play longer, but we wanted to keep him around that 25 minutes,” said first-year head coach Ime Udoka. “So when his time was done in the fourth, we pulled him there, he played 24 and a half. But he said he was fine, he was spirited out there. He was one of the guys that was competing harder. His legs might not have been there on the shots he shot short, but overall, he was fine.”
In fact, Horford dunked in the very first points of the season at TD Garden off a beautiful skip pass from Jayson Tatum.
Not a bad reintroduction to Celtics Nation.
In a similar light, Josh Richardson made a great first impression on Celtics fans after missing the season opener due to a migraine. The veteran wing poured in 12 points while shooting a perfect 4-for-4 from 3-point range in 21 minutes off the bench.
It felt good,” Richardson said following his Celtics debut. “I just wanted to come out and be confident. I work on my game a lot – half of the NBA is about confidence. I just wish we could have played better as a unit.”
Where the Celtics struggled the most as a unit was in the rebounding and turnover departments. The Raptors out-muscled Boston 60-42 on the boards and corralled 21 rebounds on the offensive end, leading to a 23-4 advantage in second-chance points. The Celtics also committed 14 more turnovers than Toronto, coughing up the rock a total of 25 times.
The team expressed a collective disappointment in the effort, but also maintained an optimistic attitude in knowing that they are still getting used to a new system and a lot of new faces in the locker room.
“This was our first game with a full roster,” Richardson noted. “I mean, as much as we wanted to win, it's not time to really panic or anything like that. We have many guys on this team that can be effective in different ways so it will come together. I know it will.”