Al Horford left Boston with a seemingly bitter taste in his mouth. The Sixers big man will look to wash it out tonight.
Horford, who spent the previous three seasons with the Celtics, has been cleared to play in Saturday night’s Eastern Conference showdown. It will mark his first return to Boston since he missed the Dec. 12 battle due to soreness in his left knee. Horford has been fighting tendinitis dating back to last year and hasn’t played since Jan. 28. The Dominican-born forward-center hybrid is averaging 12.5 points and 6.7 rebounds in 31.1 minutes per game in what many have called a down year for him.
Still, Horford will have something to prove when he steps on the court at TD Garden. In October, the 33-year-old revealed he was a little miffed about the Celtics decision to part ways with him and the way they went about doing it. So he explored free agency and found an offer he couldn’t refuse, one he believed carried championship implications.
“I’m here [in Philadelphia] looking for that championship,” Horford told the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett. “They were three really good years for me [in Boston], but we just fell short of that goal of raising that banner. I had to make a head-on decision, and it came down to the opportunity for me to compete for a championship, but also to maximize financially.”
Sixers Signed Horford to Massive Contract in July
The Sixers signed Al Horford to a lucrative four-year, $109 million contract in July, a mega-deal that was seen by many in the know as an albatross.
Horford has clearly lost a step and has struggled to incorporate his skillset into the Sixers’ offense. Coach Brett Brown wants the team to space the floor better and create more pick-and-roll opportunities but it’s been a hard sell for Horford.
“To come in and think you are going to break 12 years of people’s habits is naive,” Brown said of Horford earlier this month. “The group is great, it’s not pulling teeth,” said Brown, who seems happy with his team’s personalities.”
Horford himself admitted it has been a tough transition. He hasn’t shied away from the challenge.
“I’m out [there] for the team and doing what I can to help us,” Horford told The Inquirer in December. “But offensively, I’m very limited with the things that I can do. So I can’t control that stuff. So all I have to do is make sure I’m there for the team, trying to do everything I can to help us win.”
Sixers Looking for Fourth Straight Win over Celtics
It wasn’t that long ago that the Celtics were the thorn in the Sixers’ sides, that lone unscratchable itch. Now the tables have slightly turned.
Philadelphia has won the last four games in their Eastern Conference rivalry dating back to March 20, 2019, including a 115-109 victory on Dec. 12 in Boston. Prior to that, the Celtics had won 17 out of their previous 19 regular-season meetings, plus a five-game series win in the 2018 playoffs. Pure domination. Boston owns a 319-236 advantage in the all-time rivalry series, including the postseason.
A big part of the reason the Sixers signed Al Horford was to cripple their conference rival. He had been largely responsible for bottling Joel Embiid up in 2018, thanks to his tenacious defense. It’s something Embiid would never admit, though.
“He’s not doing anything, it’s just on me,” Embiid told reporters in 2018, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I was sleepwalking for three quarters and that’s on me. Like I said, that’s on me. It has nothing to do with anybody.”