BOSTON — Al Horford’s 19 minutes were relatively unremarkable for the Boston Celtics in Sunday’s 119-103 win over the Charlotte Hornets, except that there were 19 of them.
Horford, who missed the previous seven games and nine of the last 14 with knee soreness, was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field, tallying eight points, six rebounds and five assists. He was +19 in the box score, and he recorded a block and three free-throw attempts.
All of that is nice, but the Celtics needed more from Horford than raw production over the last few games — they need his calming influence, and the way his quick decisions can spark fast breaks. Within his minutes restriction on Sunday, he delivered.
“I mean, you’re talking about — what is this, his 12th year? 13 years?” Kyrie Irving said after the game. “Whenever you can have that, be the kind of presence he has out there to set an example for other guys that are coming in and seeing what they have to do on the offensive and defensive end to make an impact and just be solid. That gives us the teaching and that aspect, just him to be able to play and then spacing. Just guys that have been in the league and played high-level basketball for a number of years, it makes a difference. Obviously we know what he can do just out there as a player, but, for us, just morale wise, he does a lot.”
Horford was restricted to 20 minutes, which was more than enough to take care of Charlotte. He helped push the pace in transition more productively — the Celtics were more patient on Sunday than in previous games.
“You take a lot of comfort in having him out on the floor,” Brad Stevens said. “There’s no question about that. It’s good to have him back. It’s too bad that (Aron) Baynes goes out right before Al’s coming back, because I think both those guys just steady the ship in so many ways on both ends of the floor. You can play through them. They don’t need to touch it, but when they do, they usually make effective plays, and then defensively, they’re usually in the right spots and great communicators.”
Horford said the losses in his last three games didn’t influence his decision to come back, and that his knee felt good after the game. Most of all, he was relieved to be back on the floor.
“It was very helpful having that time off,” Horford said. “I’m just happy that I was able to go out there and play with a lot of energy. It’s just good to be back. Sitting on the sidelines is tough, not being able to be on the court helping the guys. I’m just happy to be back playing.”
“Definitely noticeable in moving the ball and when we’re in the right places he’s going to find guys,” Marcus Morris added.” He’s always makes the right plays, he’s a veteran. Great player to have on the team, and I enjoy playing with him.”
Morris’ return was important as well. After he struggled initially, Morris went 4-for-4 during the stretch in the second quarter when the Celtics pulled away — knocking down 3-pointers and getting to the rim.
“Just starting with some type of intensity and some type of toughness, things like that,” Morris said. “Just being out there and being a veteran, me and Ky talked about it, we just make the game come easier. We’re very vocal on the defensive end, just make the game easier.”
The Celtics will get a much greater test on Tuesday when they face the Philadelphia 76ers. But Sunday’s win was a nice reminder for the team that having a real big-man rotation makes a difference.
“It’s great to have those guys back,” Stevens said. “It allows our depth to be, especially on the perimeter, we’re really deep. And when you bring Gordon (Hayward) and Jaylen (Brown) off the bench at the two, three or four, then you have a lt of flexibility there. So obviously that should be a strength of ours, and it’s good to have everybody back, or at least on the wings.”