Al Horford reached a level of his game during the playoffs that many thought he lost at the age of 35.
It reached a new high in Game 4 during the Celtics’ 116-108 win over the Bucks on Monday night. The five-time All-Star scored 16 of his playoff career-best 30 points in the fourth quarter to help Boston level the Eastern Conference semifinals series with the defending NBA champion at two games apiece.
Equally important, the Celtics regained home field advantage as the series returns to Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday.
After spending a challenging season in Oklahoma City last year, Horford was hooked into the Thunder’s Trade for Kemba Walker, returning Horford to where he last earned All-Star honors in the 2017-18 season.
Horford said he feels he is reaping the fruits of an offseason that has focused on getting him ready to play meaningful games again. He has gone from averaging 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds during the regular season to 15.9 points and 9.4 rebounds in the postseason.
“It comes from sitting at home,” Horford said. “That comes from watching the playoffs, not knowing what my future would hold and really just hoping to have the opportunity to be in that kind of environment.”
The resurgence coincided with Boston needing someone to step up after big man Robert Williams III was sidelined for the second time this postseason and sat out Game 4 with pain in his surgically repaired left knee. For Game 5 he is questionable.
After missing an opportunity to take a 3-1 lead, Bucks guard Wesley Matthews said there was no time to sulk.
“If it was easy to get to the semifinals, every team would get to the semifinals. It is difficult. It’s bloody hard,” he said. “At the same time, you can’t keep your head too high, you can’t keep your head low at all, and you have to jump back.”
The Golden State Warriors travel to Memphis and need a win for the first time since 2019 to reach the Western Conference Finals. Then they lost in the NBA Finals before missing the last two postseasons. That’s been a long wait for a franchise that has won three championships in the past decade.
“Wednesday will be the hardest so far,” Thompson said. “It’s always that, the remaining stock. We have to put that behind us and make a good game plan.”
The Grizzlies are waiting to see if they have a chance of getting back Ja Morant, the NBA’s most-improved player and All-Star guard, who has been averaging 38.3 points per game this series but is Game 4 with a right knee injury suspended.
Even without Morant, Memphis still led to 45.7 seconds in Game 4 before Golden State rallied for a 101-98 win and secured a 3-1 lead in the series. It was the first time Memphis has been held below 100 points this postseason, and now the Grizzlies are returning home and trying to push that series back to San Francisco for Game 6 on Friday.
“We’re back home,” said Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. “We have our fans. It’s going to be loud, so we’re excited to get back home and go play again, man. We have another chance to play. You are a good team. Of course we know how the game went. Yes, we’ll get another chance.”
Games on Wednesday:
BUCKS AT CELTICS
Series draw 2-2. Game 5, 7 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: After dropping the series opener at home, Boston is back at the TD Garden with a chance to bring defending champion Bucks to the brink of elimination. The Celtics are 3-1 at home this postseason and continue to find ways to frustrate Giannis Antetokounmpo late in games.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Milwaukee in the fourth quarter. The Bucks have been outplayed in three of their four games in the last 12 minutes, including 43-28 in Game 4. The only time it hasn’t cost them was their 103-101 win in Game 3.
– INJURY OBSERVATION: The Celtics said Williams is questionable with left knee pain… Bucks forward Khris Middleton (sprained left knee) stays out. George Hill (stomach ache) is listed as likely.
– PRINTING IS ON: The Bucks. With reinforcements unlikely to come in the form of Middleton’s return, Antetokounmpo will need the best of his remaining supporting cast to avoid going down 3-2.
WARRIORS AT GRIZZLIES
Series draw 3-1. Game 5, 9:30 p.m. EDT, TNT
– FUN FACTS: Golden State is 43-24 all-time in series-winning games and 19-8 since 2015. The Warriors are also 12-3 in Game 5 since 2015. The Grizzlies are 3-11 when facing elimination.
– KEEP AN EYE ON: Dillon Brooks and Thompson. Brooks returned to Memphis after his one-game suspension for the foul that knocked out Gary Payton II with a broken left elbow. But Brooks has struggled to shoot — 8 of 35 from the floor and 4 of 18 from 3-point range in this series. He missed a 26-foot shot that could have filled Memphis’ lead in the last minute, potentially helping the Grizzlies to a dismal victory. Thompson fought almost as hard; The Warriors Guard is 9 of 35 in this series from 3-point range.
— INJURY OBSERVATION: Golden State coach Steve Kerr missed Game 4 after testing positive for COVID-19 Monday night. Associate head coach Mike Brown replaced him on the bench. The Warriors say Brown is expected to coach Game 5. … Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said Morant will be evaluated further back in Memphis and the guard’s status for Game 5 “to be determined.”
— PRINT IS ON: The Warriors. If Morant stays on the bench, the three-time NBA champion is expected to end that streak. The faster the better.
AP Sports writers Janie McCauley, Teresa M. Walker, Steve Megargee, and AP freelance writer Jim Hoehn contributed to this report.
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https://www.local10.com/sports/2022/05/10/pivotal-game-5s-on-tap-for-bucks-celtics-warriors-grizzlies/ Pivotal Game 5s on tap for Bucks-Celtics, Warriors-Grizzlies