Al Horford has tapped into a level of his game during the playoffs that many thought he’d lost at age 35.
It reached a new height in Game 4 during the Celtics’ 116-108 win over the Bucks on Monday night. The five-time All-Star scored 16 of his playoff career-high 30 points in the fourth quarter to help Boston tie the Eastern Conference semifinal series with the defending NBA champions at two games apiece.
Equally important, the Celtics have reclaimed home-court advantage as the series shifts back to Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday.
After spending a challenging season in Oklahoma City last year, Horford was packaged in the Thunder’s trade for Kemba Walker, returning Horford to where he last earned All-Star honors in the 2017-18 season.
Horford said he feels like he’s experiencing the fruits of an offseason in which he focused on being ready to play meaningful games again. He has gone from averaging 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds during the regular season to 15.9 points and 9.4 rebounds in the postseason.
”That’s from sitting at home,” Horford said. ”That’s from watching the playoffs, not knowing what my future was holding and really just hoping to have an opportunity to be in this type of environment.”
The resurgence has coincided with Boston needing someone to step up after big man Robert Williams III was sidelined for the second time this postseason, sitting out Game 4 with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee. He is questionable for Game 5.
After missing an opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead, Bucks guard Wesley Matthews said there’s no time to sulk.
”If it was easy to get to the semis, every team would get to the semis. It’s hard. It’s hard as hell,” he said. ”At the same time, you can’t hold your head too high, can’t hold your head low at all, and you’ve got to bounce back.”
The Golden State Warriors head to Memphis needing one victory to advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2019. That’s when they lost in the NBA Finals before missing the last two postseasons. That’s been a long wait for a franchise that won three championships in the last decade.
”Wednesday is going to be the hardest one yet,” Thompson said. ”It always is, the closeout. We have to put this behind us and put together a good game plan.”
The Grizzlies are waiting to see if they have a chance of getting back Ja Morant, the NBA’s most improved player and All-Star guard who had been averaging 38.3 points a game in this series but sat out Game 4 with a right knee injury.
Even without Morant, Memphis still led for all but 45.7 seconds of Game 4 before Golden State rallied for a 101-98 victory and grabbed a 3-1 series lead. It was the first time Memphis had been held under 100 points this postseason, and now the Grizzlies return home trying to push this series back to San Francisco for Game 6 on Friday.
”We’re back home,” Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said. ”We’ve got our fans. It’s going to be loud, so we’re excited to get back home and go play again, man. We have another chance to play. They’re a good team. We obviously know how the game went. Yeah, we get another chance at it.”
BUCKS AT CELTICS
Sets tied 2-2. Game 5, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT
– NEED TO KNOW: After dropping the series opener at home, Boston is back at TD Garden with a chance to put the defending champion Bucks on the brink of elimination. The Celtics are 3-1 at home this postseason and continue to find ways to frustrate Giannis Antetokounmpo late in games.
– KEEP AN EYE ON: Milwaukee in the fourth quarter. The Bucks were outscored in the final 12 minutes in three of the four games, including 43-28 in Game 4. The only time it didn’t cost them was their 103-101 win in Game 3.
– INJURY WATCH: The Celtics said Williams is questionable with left knee soreness. Bucks forward Khris Middleton (sprained left knee) remains out. George Hill (abdominal soreness) is listed as probable.
– PRESSURE IS ON: The Bucks. With no reinforcements likely coming in the form of Middleton returning, Antetokounmpo will need the best from his remaining supporting cast to avoid going down 3-2.
WARRIORS AT GRIZZLIES
Sets tied 3-1. Game 5, 9:30 p.m. EDT, TNT
– NEED TO KNOW: Golden State is 43-24 all-time in series-clinching games and 19-8 since 2015. The Warriors also are 12-3 since 2015 in Game 5s. The Grizzlies are 3-11 when facing elimination.
– KEEP AN EYE ON: Dillon Brooks and Thompson. Brooks returned to Memphis from his one-game suspension for the foul that sidelined Gary Payton II with a broken left elbow. But Brooks is struggling to shoot – 8 of 35 from the floor and 4 of 18 from 3-point range in this series. He missed a 26-footer that could’ve padded Memphis’ lead in the final minute, possibly helping the Grizzlies pull out a gritty win. Thompson has struggled almost as badly; the Warriors guard is 9 of 35 in this series from 3-point range.
– INJURY WATCH: Golden State coach Steve Kerr missed Game 4 after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday evening. Associate head coach Mike Brown replaced him on the bench. The Warriors say Brown is expected to coach Game 5. … Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said Morant will be evaluated further back in Memphis and the guard’s status is ”to be determined” for Game 5.
– PRESSURE IS ON: The Warriors. If Morant remains on the bench, then the three-time NBA champs will be expected to close out this series. The quicker the better.
AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley, Teresa M. Walker, Steve Megargee and AP freelance writer Jim Hoehn contributed to this report.
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