Sixers Lead

All Eyes on Horford for Showdown with Boston

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All eyes will be on Al Horford when the 76ers meet the Celtics tonight. The former Celtic has a chance to shine in the absence of Joel Embiid, who is out with a dislocated finger. During Horford’s time with Boston, his performances played a large role in containing Embiid. Known as the “Embiid Killer” to some, Horford garnered a negative reputation amongst Philadelphia fans in recent years. Horford received backlash from Boston fans when he left, most saying he couldn’t play together with Embiid. Though he and Embiid have yet to truly mesh on the court together, games like this allow Horford to do what he does best. For this game, he will be able to do what he was brought to Philadelphia to do.

 

Al Horford was brought to Philadelphia with the hopes that he would be an apt replacement to spell Joel Embiid when needed. Embiid’s health concerns were a big reason why the Sixers offered Horford such a lucrative contract, valued at four years, $109 million. While Embiid’s health has been better this year, it has not been perfect. In previous years, a game of this caliber, in the midst of a slump would seem borderline unwinnable. Now, the gap between Sixers centers isn’t nearly as wide.

With two centers like Horford and Embiid both on the floor, it’s not surprising that Philadelphia runs into spacing issues. Head coach Brett Brown emphasized that he wants Horford playing more perimeter basketball when both are on the court. At points this season, Horford looked disinterested or confused about his role on the court with Embiid. With Embiid sidelined, Horford now has control of the paint. He looked more aggressive in recent outings, gaining the attention of Brown after his performance against Oklahoma City.

The Sixers’ offense will likely take a different approach with Horford being the main big man on the court. Though Horford is still big and can play inside, he has changed his game in recent years to be able to shoot from outside. Philadelphia will use that to their advantage when playing the Celtics. Horford is shooting 34% from three-point range this season, nearly right on the league average. Allowing Horford to make more long-distance shots frees up the lane for Ben Simmons, who can take nearly any PG to the paint on offense. Philadelphia expects to have rookie Matisse Thybulle back for Thursday’s game, adding to their perimeter talent.

In addition to not having to co-exist with Joel Embiid, Al Horford is motivated by playing against his former team. During the teams’ first meeting, Horford scored 16 points in 31 minutes. After sitting out the second meeting with a sore knee, he is ready to get back to work. Though typically a quiet player, Horford relishes opportunities to play against former teammates.

When Philadelphia signed Al Horford, they did so with these games in mind. In certain games, the team cannot lack an elite center. Having Horford play for Embiid gives the Sixers a new look offensively and doesn’t require a large talent sacrifice at the position. When the lights come on at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night, all eyes will be on Horford, and he will be ready for the spotlight.

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About Dave Pedron

As a Pennsylvania native, Penn State grad, and diehard Sixers fan, I'm very excited to cover the team and usher in the next chapter of the Process.

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