Sure, Kyrie Irving is good, but is Al Horford the Celtics' key tonight?


INDIANAPOLIS -- When you think of the Celtics and players to worry about, Kyrie Irving immediately comes to mind. 

The Indiana Pacers are no different when it comes to respecting what Irving’s play means when the two face off tonight. 

But as impactful as Irving is, Al Horford continues to emerge as the most indispensable member of this Celtics team. 

Ask any of his teammates and they’ll gush about how valuable Horford’s versatility at both ends of the floor and Teflon-strong leadership has been to this team this season.

But the adulation isn’t limited to just those he goes to battle with night-in and night-out. 

“He’s a very, very savvy player,” said Indiana’s Thaddeus Young. “He never gets over-anxious to make a play. He makes great reads. He’s a guy that’s going to be up for his teammates no matter what. He’s a very good, intangible guy.

Young added, “To rebound the basketball, he can score … he can hurt you from a lot of different ways. Hat goes off to him. Very good player, done very well for himself. Like I said, he’s a player that can really hurt you if you let him.”

The Pacers know this all too well. 

Boston has  2-1 series lead in the three matchups, but the Pacers are likely paying close attention to the last meeting, a 114-112 buzzer-beating win for the Celtics on April 3.

It was their first meeting this season since Indiana’s Victor Oladipo suffered a season-ending injury. 

And it was also the best game Horford had against the Pacers this season, tallying 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go with seven rebounds and three blocked shots. 

The Pacers also must contend with Horford being even better now that the Celtics are playing him and Aron Baynes more together. 

Baynes and Horford have played in 35 games this season for a total of 141 minutes. for 141

Minutes. In that time, they have an 86.6 defensive rating and a net rating of +23.9.

Domantas Sabonis, while respectful of what Horford and Baynes are capable of doing in tandem, is confident that he and the rest of Indiana’s bigs - specifically him and Myles Turner - can more than hold their own. 

“I feel like it’s better matchups for both of us, two bigs going against two other bigs,” Sabonis said. “At the end of the day, it’s team defense, everyone works together to get stops." 

Young added, “It’s two bigger bodies. Horford is a very good defender so it’s a little harder to get shots up when you have Horford and Baynes guarding you as opposed to someone else who is smaller.
But that doesn’t mean Young doesn’t see opportunities for the Pacers to find success against Boston’s 1-2 punch. 

“They’re still vulnerable,” Young said. “You can get them in transition, beat them up and down the court. Get the ball moving side to side before trying to go downhill. That way the defense is on rotation as opposed to standing where the ball is sticking. So, it’s a matter of us executing our offense and making sure we impose our will early.”

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