Celtics welcome back Al Horford and Jae Crowder with win over the Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — They played the usual selection of NBA arena tunes here at The Palace — and, hey, there was a Sinatra tribute at halftime. But the only legitimate accompaniment for the Celtics last night was Peaches and Herb’s “Reunited.”
And it felt so good when Al Horford followed up a Jae Crowder missed 3-pointer and monster keep-alive by Marcus Smart to put the Celts ahead, 94-92 with 1.3 seconds left.
It felt even better for the C’s when Horford blocked the Pistons’ Aron Baynes at the buzzer to seal the victory.
For the first time this season, the Bostonians had their complete rotation, as Horford returned after nine games out due to a concussion and Crowder was back following an eight-game absence because of a sprained ankle. Neither had yet played this year with Kelly Olynyk, who came back from offseason shoulder surgery just 10 nights prior.
Horford went for 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in a season-high 34 minutes. Crowder had nine points, while Isaiah Thomas led with 24.
“Take us home, big fella,” Amir Johnson called to Horford across the dressing room. “Take us to the promised land. Glad you’re back, man.”
Horford replied that he was just happy to be playing again after going down in practice on the last day of October.
“I felt really good,” he said later. “(It was) just very frustrating these past few weeks, dealing with a lot of different things. And finally I’m at the point where I feel good enough that I was ready to play.
“It just feels good, honestly, just to come out with a win. I felt like we did some good things, but then we would let them back in the game. I’m just glad that we were able to pull the game out.”
Though the Celtics had the lead for most of the night, the outcome was most certainly in doubt down the stretch.
The fifth lead change of the fourth quarter (there were 19 in the game and seven in the period) came when Horford cut to the hoop and dunked a Smart pass to put the Celts up, 88-87, with 1:45 left.
But Andre Drummond scored on a jam and Thomas hit on a drive. Isaiah added two free throws with 30 seconds left for a three-point lead, but Tobias Harris tied it on a trey from the left corner with 23.2 on the clock.
Brad Stevens then did something smart by not doing anything. He didn’t call a timeout, which prevented the Pistons from getting the 6-foot-11 Drummond back into the game. He finished with 17 rebounds.
But he wasn’t there when Smart flew in from the wing to get a hand on Crowder’s miss.
“I thought I had the dagger,” said Crowder. “But Smart had a great tip and kept the ball alive, and Al was able to put it right back. That was big-time for us. We really wanted to end those guys in regulation. We didn’t want it to go into overtime, especially off a back-to-back.”
Horford also pointed to Smart, who had a wayward offensive night going 1-for-9 from the floor (0-for-5 on treys).
“The credit is to Marcus,” Horford said. “I mean, that’s a championship play that he made, a winning play that he made right there. He just literally crashed the glass hard, and the ball just fell. I just put it back in, and that was that.”
At the other end of the floor, Baynes’ 8-footer from the side of the lane never had a chance.
“He had nowhere to go, Baynes, and I was just right there,” Horford said. “The main thing was don’t let him get the shot off, so I just blocked it.”
And he just made the Celts’ night after a frustrating loss to Golden State. The win lifted the Celtics to 7-6 — 3-1 with Horford.
“Being on the side like this, seeing the team have its ups and downs,” he said, “it really just makes you lock in as a player and makes you appreciate a lot more the process and playing, because we’re building something here.”
The Pistons entered as the NBA’s last team to be undefeated at home, but the Celts took care of that.
“The locker room has a good pulse right now, especially after that big-time win coming off a loss like that,” said Crowder. “We just want to build some momentum.”