The upcoming Celtics-Bucks series in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs is going to be a heavyweight fight. The Bucks had the best record in the league. They have a great coach and a transcendent superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Celtics have a basketball wizard in Kyrie Irving, a version of Gordon Hayward that is slowly beginning to resemble old Gordon Hayward, and a handful of quality depth pieces. It’s going to be a slugfest.
But for the talented Celtics to have a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, veteran big man and team linchpin Al Horford has to play his best series ever and find a way to limit Giannis as much as possible. Stopping Giannis this year is a legitimately impossible task, and no one in Boston has any illusions of Horford shutting down the MVP candidate. But if he can prevent Giannis from owning the paint like he did against Detroit last round, Boston has a chance.
This year, the only way to stymie Giannis is to make things very difficult for him. He’s still going to score at least 20 points in the paint, but if he has to bang with Horford down low for the entire game, it’ll wear on him. Brad Stevens will empty his cupboard of strong wing players to try and achieve that goal (Semi Ojeleye is on the team for this exact purpose), but in crunch time, it’ll be all up to Horford. If he can prevent Giannis from getting whatever he wants and prevent any easy and-one buckets, Boston will like their chances.
Horford will be equally important on the offensive end of things, especially from the three-point line. But the minutes he spends defending Giannis will likely decide the outcome of the series. These are two great teams, and their playoff lives may be determined by one or two possessions at the end of all this. Horford’s ability to contain Giannis in those situations will play a significant role in determining how those possessions unfold.