Worst Comes To Worst

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I don't know what this Boston Celtics team is.  I don't know if it is the system or the coach or the roster.  I don't know if they win because their opponents miss shots, or if their opponents miss shots because of the Celtics' defense.

If 'Bron Solo and the Cavs had come in and destroyed the Celts in Boston, I wouldn't have been surprised at all.  I would have figured that the basketball genius of Brad Stevens had finally lost the war of attrition to the undefeated entity we know as the injury bug, that no coach, regardless of an endless supply of after time-out plays, can drag such a bag of balls to the NBA Finals.

Instead, these off-brand Celtics just obliterated the Cavs by 25 points in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.  Prior to the game, Marcus Morris had stated publicly that he guards Lebron James better than anyone in the league other than Kawhi Leonard.  Usually a guy gets torched when he says something like that.  Instead, Morris went for 21 points and 10 rebounds, while LeBron managed just 15 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists on 31% shooting.  That's not the story line.  I don't know what the story line is.  "Next man up" is the motto, and so far it has worked.  Can they continue to do this through the Conference Finals?  And if they can, what does that mean when they face the Warriors or Rockets in the Finals?  I don't have an answer for any of this.

What I do know is the one over-riding constant in the jerseys with the clovers, a man who's overall impact on the basketball court cannot be quantified any more than the Celtics can be rated for how good they are or how poorly their opponents play.  A man that always knows where to be and the easiest way to get there.  A man who's game compliments everyone else on the court whilst his own merits linger in the shadows.  Al Horford.  The most talked about player that nobody ever talks about.  He is an enigma.  He just knows how to play basketball.  He can fit in with the best players in the game without getting in the way and can elevate the performance of anyone lucky enough to be wearing a jersey with the same name on the front.  In a showcase of the best players in the world, the undeniable talent and athleticism of Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn't stay in the game on All-Star Weekend while Al Horford was the glue that held Team Stephen together in crunch time.  Despite losing 148-145 to Team LeBron, it said a lot about the last man picked in the All-Star Draft that he was more comfortable in an unstructured game involving the NBA's brightest stars.  

Al Horford's nickname should be the Big Efficient.  The Player Efficiency Rating (PER) should be modeled after him.  Sadly it is not.  Horford's 2018 PER was an average 17.6.  James Harden led the league at 29.8.  PER is about big numbers, not efficiency.  Horford's total game and impact can't be measured by advanced stats and analytics.  You simply have to watch him to see that he has game.  He is a hooper, plain and simple.

If the Celtics can get a win while giving 4 different guys more minutes than Horford, as they did in Game 1, they are in good shape.  Horford played just 27 minutes and managed 20 points on 8-10 shooting with 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks.  If that is not efficient, I don't know what is.

Gordon Hayward's turns ankle into a wet sock.  Kyrie's knee needs a screw removed.  Daniel Theis would be nice to have around.  Marcus Smart and his thumb.  Jaylen Brown's questionable hamstring.  Shane Larkin is out too?  When worst comes to worst, Al Horford is there to make whoever is still standing look like opening day starters.

Tim Caldwell