Ainge on Horford: 'He plays the way great Celtics of the past have played'

Ainge on Horford: 'He plays the way great Celtics of the past have played'

WALTHAM – With the NBA stressing spacing and shooting, Horford knew last year that it was time to adapt. Now in his first season with the Celtics, Horford is primed to continue evolving as a scorer.

“I really worked hard on getting better and getting comfortable shooting the three. Now I think I’m ready to take another step in that area,” Horford said. “The Hawks really encouraged me and gave me confidence to do that. That goes a long way because sometimes you want to do something, but the team doesn’t want that for you.”

After hitting a respectable 34.4 percent of his threes, Horford wants to take his shooting to higher level. The Hawks supported that process, and the Celtics will do the same.

“I think that his hard work and his adaptability to the way the game is being played has just enhanced him even more by adding to what was already one of the better mid-range shots in the league,” Brad Stevens said, “to extending that range, to not only being a reasonable three-point shooter, but a good three-point shooter. He’s a guy that is now constantly thinking about perfecting that.”

Stevens alluded to Horford’s mid-range shot, which is absolutely deadly. From 2010 through 2016, Horford ranked third in the league on two-point jumpers from 15-feet or deeper (47.3 percent), per NBA Savant.

The C’s had the 13th-highest three-point rate last season, but the third-worst make percentage. They need a player who they can rely on to rain fire from downtown and they hope it can be their latest acquisition. If Horford does manage improve his three, he could be a lethal weapon.

Horford will help anyway, even if his shot doesn’t improve, considering how versatile he is as a scorer.

“I think that anytime you have the ability to pop, roll, or play in the seam it’s a huge advantage,” Stevens said. “He’s excellent at all three and the numbers show that. We play through our bigs a lot and that’s something we have a desire to continue to do. It’s great from a fit standpoint in a lot of ways, but certainly in the way we play.”

Horford scored 1.13 points per possession in the pick-and-roll last season, per Synergy/NBA.com. His multipurpose abilities should greatly enhance the Celtics, after they ranked 28th in pick-and-roll screener scoring efficiency last season.

Horford can pass and handle the ball too, as one of the league’s most skilled bigs. He led all qualifying bigs with a 2.5 assist-turnover ratio last season, so the Celtics will utilize him as both a primary scoring and passing option.

The Celtics half court offense was stagnant at times and now they have a player they can lean on when they’re in need of a bucket.

Horford might not be the splash fans were hoping for in Kevin Durant, but Danny Ainge believes it won’t be long before fans fall in love with him.

“He plays the way great Celtics of the past have played. He plays with a passion that is contagious to his teammates. He can fit different types of players. He can play outside, he can play inside on both ends of the court,” Danny Ainge said. “I think he is a player that our fans will fall in love with, and his teammates will fall in love with, and our coach will fall in love with, as well.”

Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter: @KevinOConnorNBA

WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

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WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pelicans in New Orleans. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 5:30  p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

As the NBA trade deadline drew near, Celtics Nation was hoping tonight’s matchup between Boston and New Orleans would be Anthony Davis returning to where his pro career began.

He’s still with the Pelicans, doing what Davis has done for most of his career – dominate play.

But there’s a new twist now … he’s also winning. 

That’s why the 6-foot-10 Davis is no longer seen as a player that might be on the move anytime soon. 

He’s not just one of the league’s best players, but a bonafide MVP candidate whose stock as an elite player is even greater since New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon) for the season on Jan. 26. 

Since Cousins’ season-ending injury, New Orleans (39-30) has a 12-9 record with Davis averaging 31.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in that span. 

Davis is also averaging 7.8 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, although you wouldn’t know he was among the league leaders in that category based on the postgame rant by his coach Alvin Gentry following New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday night. 

“A.D. (Anthony Davis) never gets a call,” a visibly angry Gentry told reporters following the loss. “He never gets a call. We talk about them holding him. We talk about them grabbing him on rolls. We talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call; not one. And you know why? Because he doesn’t (bleep) complain about it. He just keeps playing the game.”

Regardless of how often he gets to the line, Davis is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season in Cousins’ absence. 

But it’s not like Davis’ stat line this season overall – 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals – didn’t stand out for all the right reasons, either.

However, Davis’ shine isn’t quite as bright now with the Pelicans losing four of their last five games which has dropped New Orleans (39-30) down to the eighth and final playoff spot and just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (37-31).

So, the Celtics come into town facing not only one of the better teams in the West, but a club that is absolutely starving for a win.

While Boston (47-22) certainly wants to come into the Big Easy and get a victory, its impact on the Celtics’ playoff hopes is non-existent. 

Boston has the second-best record in the East and trail Toronto (52-17) by five games with 13 remaining. They face the Raptors two more times this season, but even if they win both of those games and thus the head-to-head series, it likely won’t come into play because of Toronto likely finishing with the best record in the East. 

And behind Boston in the standings is Cleveland (40-29), another injury-riddled team that’s seven games behind the Celtics in the standing and has shown no signs of threatening to gain ground on Boston. 

So regardless of how the Celtics fare, it’s likely they will remain sandwiched between Toronto and Cleveland in terms of playoff seedings are concerned. 

And that might factor into who plays – and who doesn’t – for Boston in these final few games of the regular season. 

Boston’s Daniel Theis suffered a season-ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, and Marcus Smart’s right thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season with the earliest he might be back being the latter stages of the first round of the playoffs, or sometime during the second round if the Celtics advance that far. 

Boston must also make sure Kyrie Irving and his sore left knee, are good to go for the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics must work Jaylen Brown back into the fold after he suffered a concussion that has kept him out of Boston’s last three games. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made a point of not allowing himself or his players to use their injury situation as an excuse for not playing good basketball. 

But he knows good basketball for his injury-riddled roster, involves players elevating their play.

“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistributing responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said, adding, “We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best basketball.”