Sixers start ‘Al Horford revenge tour’ in dominant fashion

Philadelphia 76ers forward Paul Reed (44) shoots over Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during the first half of Game 1 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series, Monday, May 1, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Sixers superstar James Harden casually dribbling the ball between his legs and lulling Al Horford to sleep with the game on the line was poetic justice. Harden’s dagger triple, coming off his patented step back, swished, and Philadelphia 76ers fans swooned as the clock stopped at 8.4 seconds.

Sixers send a message after Harden’s brilliance

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) shoots against Boston Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon, right, during the first half of Game 1 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series, Monday, May 1, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The timely shot secured a 119-115 victory for the Sixers over the hated Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. More importantly, it sent an emphatic message to one of the biggest villains in Sixers history: not this time, not this year. Horford looked old and defeated for the majority of his 30 minutes on the floor, especially when Harden went on the attack. The Beard was relentless in running pick-and-roll action at Horford all night, turning 16 direct picks into 28 points.

Then again, nobody could stop Harden during a vintage performance where he poured in 45 points. Houston Harden? Nah, this Harden has always been trapped inside since coming over from the Brooklyn Nets last year in a trade, deferring to Joel Embiid by choice and patiently waiting for Aladdin to let him out. Rick ’em, rack ’em, rock ’em, rake! Stick that sword into that snake!

Harden was brilliant for the Sixers in Game 1. Horford got the poster, but it didn’t really matter who was guarding him. He was finding his spots at will while still setting up teammates and running the show. The game-winning shot came off a screen from P.J. Tucker, according to Harden.

“I think PJ [Tucker] set the screen, and I came off the screen, and I was wondering if they were going to put two on the ball, and so when I cross-screened and pulled the ball back out, they just stayed home, it was a 1-on-1,” Harden said, via Ky Carlin. “So, then, I’m just looking up, like, alright, this is what I work on every day, to get the best available shot no matter what it is. So, you know, raise up and shoot it.”

Horford said (via NBC Sports Boston): “He probably surprised me with how quick he shot the ball. I figured he would have tried to spend a little more time before going, but I felt like I was right there to contest it. You gotta be careful with him because you can’t really contest them because he always kicks his legs, you know, that’s one of the things he does. So, for me, it’s a good learning experience there and knowing how I would handle it if I’m in that position again.”

Anna Horford predictably adds fuel to Al Horford revenge tour

Boston Celtics’ Al Horford reacts in the first half during Game 1 in the first round of the NBA basketball playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, Saturday, April 15, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Horford’s outspoken sister, Anna, has always loved stirring the pot. She has gotten into quite a few social media skirmishes with Sixers fans over the years. So when Spike Eskin threw some shade at Anna at the end of Game 1, she predictably responded with a series of tweets seeking to show how Philadelphia is “obsessed with Horford.” Save that energy for Game 2, everyone.

Look, no one is ready to dance on Horford’s grave or declare the Eastern Conference semifinals over. This series is likely heading for seven games. That is how these things tend to go. However, it sure was satisfying to win Game 1 by sticking it to a guy who has been a thorn in the Sixers’ side for so long.

He played the role of Embiid Stopper perfectly early in his career, then couldn’t get out of his own way when Philadelphia inked him to a $109 million deal in 2019. It was called “one of the worst contracts of the decade,” one the Sixers decided to rip up and declare a failed experiment after one season.

Ah, memories. Moving on. Game 2 for the Sixers is scheduled for Wednesday night back in Boston. Horford, who finished at minus-17 in Game 1, might get his groove back, or maybe Father Time has finally caught up with him. Either way, Anna Horford is sure to have something to say.