Horford comes up big for Hawks

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Horford comes up big for Hawks

ATLANTA Al Horford isn't 100-percent healthy, and that's the scary part of all this if you're the Boston Celtics.

Horford, who missed all but 11 games during the regular season with a pectoral injury, came up with a monster game on Tuesday to keep the Hawks' season alive for another night with an 87-86 win.

Appearing in his second straight game, Horford was back in the starting lineup and showed why he's considered one of the more promising young big men in the NBA.

He tallied 19 points and 11 rebounds, the first double-double of this playoff series by someone for the Hawks not named Josh Smith.

"Al Horford was absolutely huge tonight," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. "He was a superman for us down the stretch."

He was pretty special for most of the 41 minutes he was on the floor, actually.

"He's an All-Star," said Paul Pierce. "He definitely was huge; just having his presence out there tonight, on the inside with his defense and rebounding."

Like Ray Allen when he came back from his right ankle injury earlier in the series, the Hawks aren't sure how much Horford can handle just yet.

Judging by the minutes he played in Game 5 and his production, he's closer to All-Star Horford than one might expect.

And what makes Horford so talented, is that he finds ways to contribute in several areas.

Horford's scoring and rebounding took center stage on Tuesday, probably the most important play he made involved him not even touching the ball.

With the Celtics down 87-86, Rajon Rondo stole a Josh Smith pass with about 10 seconds to play. He quickly pushed the ball up court with Smith and Horford already back defensively.

Horford soon switched out to guard Rondo, who was unable to turn the corner and get to the basket. That led to Rondo losing control of the ball, and Smith deflecting it out of bounds as time expired.

"I didn't want to lose the series that way, so I didn't want to let Rondo shoot a jumper over me," Horford said. "You're fighting for your life out there."

And Horford was fighting to catch his breath at times, which isn't all that surprising when you consider he's had such a long lay-off from playing.

"I was tired a little bit," he admitted. "But right now I feel fine. Maybe it's the adrenaline from the game and (Wednesday) it will be a different story, but right now I'm fine."

And so are the Hawks; about as well as you can be following a win that puts them essentially back where they were at the start of business on Tuesday - facing playoff elimination.

Now that the game shifts back to Boston, the Celtics will have a building full of their own fans to cheer them on.

But they'll also have to continue to contend with Horford who will once again look to be a difference-maker for the Hawks.

"Al makes a big difference," Rondo said. "He can guard anybody on the court."

WATCH: Celtics vs. Pistons

WATCH: Celtics vs. Pistons

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Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- On Friday night, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan absolutely torched the Boston Celtics. The game before that, it was Chicago’s Jimmy Butler giving the Celtics major fits with a barrage of baskets. 

Both were All-Star starters this year, the kind of lofty status that helps explain how the Celtics were so defensively-challenged in their efforts in limiting them.

Detroit doesn’t have a bona fide high-scoring perimeter star like those other teams, but don’t think for a minute that tonight’s game will be a breeze for the Celtics. Boston (37-21) comes in having lost two in a row to Chicago and Toronto, respectively. The Raptors loss was especially painful because it assured the Raptors would get the higher seed in the playoffs if these two teams finished with an identical record. 

Boston hopes to secure an edge over the Pistons tonight with a victory that will give them the season series, three games to one. While it may seem a bit early to get too caught up in tie-breakers and their importance, the last thing Boston wants is to finish the regular season tied with one or more teams, and wind up with the lower seed because they lost the head-to-head series. 

“You hear people say every game counts; it’s true,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “We need to win as many games as we can because you never know which game could be the difference between having home court or not.”

If Boston continues to find ways to win and finish with a tie-free, top-four finish in the East, they will begin the playoffs at the TD Garden for the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.

Meanwhile the Pistons are currently eighth in the East and, like the Celtics, they too opted to stand pat at the trade deadline. And like Boston, they are looking for growth from within as they try to make their way up the Eastern Conference standings. 

“We’re not real happy with how we’ve played up to this point overall,” said Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations and head coach. “But we still have a young group. As much as you would like the progress to be steadily uphill, it’s not always. That doesn’t mean you lose faith in your guys. At the end of the day, we ended up standing pat, which is pretty much what we expected to do.”

One of Boston’s biggest concerns coming into the game will be rebounding. It was among the many factors contributing to Boston’s loss on Friday. But as much as execution at both ends of the floor will be a factor, effort will be just as vital if not more, to the success of the Celtics in the playoffs. There were plenty of reasons as to why Boston lost on Friday night, with effort being near the top of the list. 

“They played harder than us,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder. 

And that was surprising when you consider what was at stake – a chance to push their lead over Toronto to five games with a couple dozen to go.

Rookie forward Jaylen Brown has heard all the reasons and explanations as to why the Celtics have hit a mini-hiccup following back-to-back losses. And he has also heard how Boston blew a golden opportunity to beat Toronto with Raptors all-star Kyle Lowry still out. 

“We didn’t have one of our key guys, either,” said Brown, referring to Avery Bradley still being out with a foot injury. So it’s basketball at the end of the day. It doesn’t’ matter who is on the floor. You have to do your job; we just have to do our job.”