BOSTON • With his younger teammates looking to him, Al Horford tied his National Basketball Association (NBA) play-off best with 26 points to lead the Boston Celtics to a 112-96 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 of their first-round series on Saturday.
The TD Garden gave the centre a standing ovation with 41.8 seconds left as he walked to the bench and the 31-year-old is expected to be key to Boston's hopes of getting past the Philadelphia 76ers too.
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals tips off in Boston today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time).
"Al makes the right play, does the right thing. That's what a five-time All-Star is supposed to do," Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, who finished with two points after he was forced off with a hamstring injury, told ESPN. "He continues to play the game the right way, and when times get tough, we lean on him a little bit. And tonight, Game 7, biggest game of the year, he showed out."
Horford - the Celtics' only healthy All-Star following injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving - added eight rebounds and three assists. For the series, he averaged 18.1 points on 58.8 per cent shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
"I think that the best way to phrase it with Al is he provides stability for all of us," Celtics coach Brad Stevens told ESPN. "Whenever you have lost other guys to injury, when people aren't available when things aren't going your way, he has likely been through it, and he provides a very calming influence to the younger players."
Celtics' 24-year-old guard Terry Rozier also had a playoff-career-high 26 points and Jayson Tatum, the 20-year-old forward, added 20 points as the home teams won all seven games in the series.
The Celtics played in their NBA-record 31st Game 7, improving to 23-8. The Bucks dropped to 2-8 lifetime in decisive seventh games.
"We're on edge. Everything's on the line, and I felt like our players, we felt that," Horford told NBC Sports Boston after the game.
"We've been doing this all year. Guys were coming together at different times and making plays, and that's what we did tonight."
Khris Middleton had 32 to lead Milwaukee, who were denied their first play-off series victory since the 2000-01 season. Eric Bledsoe scored 23 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Boston are now 36-0 lifetime when leading a play-off series 2-0, and they will try to make it 37 straight when they face the 76ers.
"We got to pay attention to details and take away what they want to do," Rozier said of the next round.
In Oakland, reigning champions Golden State Warriors rolled over the New Orleans Pelicans 123-101 in the opener of their Western Conference second-round series.
Golden State again played without two-time MVP Stephen Curry. but coach Steve Kerr said it was "very likely" he would feature in Game 2 tomorrow. Curry has been out since March 23 with a sprained knee.
"If he comes back he is our guy," said Warriors forward Draymond Green. "He will incorporate himself back into the offence. We will be ready to roll."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS