And it's on to LA

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And it's on to LA

LOS ANGELES For the first half of the first game of the second half of their season, the Celtics looked like that team.

You know that team. You love that team.

Early on, Boston pushed the ball last night in Denver. They moved the ball. They helped each other, trusted each other and were unselfish almost to a fault. They built a nine-point, second-quarter lead on the heavily-favored Nuggets, and as usual, it was beautiful.

But it didn't stick. Before long, Denver's younger, larger, deeper and more athletic roster wore down the Celtics attack. The Nuggets cut the lead to one by halftime, led by eight after three, and fought off a late Celtics comeback to pick up a 97-90 revenge victory.

And to that I say: Oh well.

What are you going do to?

On one hand, yeah this is a game the Celtics could have won. I mean, the score was tied with five minutes left, of course they could have won. Maybe even should have won. But before we get too bent out of shape, it's worth remembering that the Nuggets are a damn good team.

Despite their earlier loss to the Boston and their three straight losses overall the Nuggets are 34-21. They're the fifth seed in the West, but they'd have the second best record in the East. And last night, they were playing in front of their always impressive crowd, which was particularly rabid thanks to the losing streak and the fact that this was Denver's first home game since February 7.

It probably sounds like I'm making excuses for the Celtics here, and I probably I am, but they were nine-point underdogs last night. The Nuggets are 22-3 at home! A loss sucks, but it's still OK. To be honest, I'm just happy that Boston put themselves in a position to win at all. That unlike what we saw for most of the first few months they're in a position to win every game. That it appears they're done taking nights off and always ready to bring it, regardless of the opponent andor size of the TV viewing audience.

I don't want to congratulate them for this turn around, because "that's what you're supposed to do!" it's just good to see that maximum effort is once again a steady attribute of Boston Celtics basketball.

But in the NBA, sometimes effort doesn't matter. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where the other team is just better. Sometimes your best isn't good enough.

And sometimes you play the Lakers.

Truth be told, the deck is once again stacked against the Celtics tonight in LA where they're currently seven point underdogs. This is Kobe and friends' first home game since the break, but more importantly, it's their first home game since the death of Dr. Jerry Buss. There are going to be a ton of emotions running through the Staples Center and and not to trivialize things they're all going to be running against the Celtics.

Still, this is is the game the Celtics can win. A game they should win. And with the trade deadline just about 24 hours away, you wonder how much the outcome of tonight's game might shape Boston's short and long-term future.

You throw in the Dwight drama, the urgency on both sides, the general insanity of the Celtics-Lakers and that slight chance that this is the last time we see either Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in Green and . . .

Things might get a little crazy.

I'll be at Staples Center, covering the game with A. Sherrod Blakely.

Hope that team will be there, too.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

BOSTON – Al Horford had the kind of game that stands out because of the way he scored from so many different spots on the floor. 

But the true measure of his value to this team usually lies in what he brings to the floor defensively. 

Horford had one of his better games defensively in Boston’s 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday, a game in which he had a season-high six blocked shots. 

For the season, the four-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 2.9 blocks per game.

He’ll be looking to do more of the same tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

While Philly doesn’t have a player as dominant and difficult to contain as DeMarcus Cousins, their top post player Joel Embiid has been impressive even with a minutes restriction after having missed the last two seasons with injuries and recovery. 

Against Sacramento, he had a season-high six blocked shots which was one short of tying his career high which came against the Kings during the 2010-2011 season. 

Although Horford has ranked among the NBA’s top big men when it comes to blocking shots, the Celtics knew when they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract they were adding a player who could help with rim protection. 

The biggest play in the Celtics’ win over Sacramento came in the closing seconds when Horford was credited with blocking DeMarcus Cousins’ shot. Horford was fouled and went to the line and made his free throws to secure the victory. 

“Playing at the power forward position it really frees me up defensively,” Horford said. “I feel like I can run around a little more and have more impact. When you are a center a lot of the times you get caught up with the bigs and it’s a little harder to get out to shooters and stuff. I’m just trying to be active, as active as I can.”

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas who was among the Green Teamers to recruit Horford to sign with Boston, seeing him protect the rim the way he did on Friday was no surprise.

“We’ve always known when we recruited him we knew that was what he was good at,” Thomas said. “Even if he doesn’t block shots, he alters shots and changes them. He’s a hell of a player on both ends of the floor and he played a hell of a game (on Friday).”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens likes what he sees out of Horford defensively, especially now that he plays for Boston and not Atlanta which eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season. 

“He was terrific in our series,” Stevens said. “Terrific. And so, playing him 10 times last year, and so, I mean, I think I’m an idiot but after 10 times I had at least an idea. You know, he’s all over the place and he covers a lot of ground, he calls out calls, and I think he’s a competitive guy. And that proof is in his winning track record.”