Celtics

Al Horford says Celtics stars still feeling each other out offensively

Al Horford says Celtics stars still feeling each other out offensively

NEWPORT, R.I. – Kyrie Irving averaged 25-plus points per game as LeBron James’ wing man last season. Gordon Hayward pumped in 20-plus a night in leading a revitalized Utah Jazz team to the second round of the playoffs last season. 

And then there’s Al Horford who does a little bit of everything offensively that collectively adds up to a lot of wins for whatever team he suits up for. 

With so much talent offensively, scoring will be a breeze, right? 

“I know people can say, ‘you’ve played with them over the years’ or, ‘you’ve played against them over the years’ and things like that,” Horford told CSNNE.com. “But it’s not the same when you try to work together and figure things out. So really getting to know these guys, figuring out what they like, their spots on the court. It’s only five practices, but you start to get a sense of how they want to play.”

Having an offense that’s functioning at a high level involves many players, including Horford who will at times initiate the Celtics’ offense out of the post. 

Last season, the Celtics ranked among the NBA’s leaders in a number of offensive categories. 

When it came to scoring, Boston’s 108.0 points per game ranked seventh in the NBA. Boston’s higher-than-usual point production was fueled in large part by the Celtics’ 3-point shooting with Boston being ranked third in both 3-point field goals made (12.0) and attempted (33.4).

One of the big keys to Boston offensively this season will be Horford.

At 6-foot-10, Horford has the size to play center which he will at times this season. But he shoots the ball well enough to where you can’t just leave him open beyond the 3-point line. And while last season his job was to primarily seal off his defender and allow the guards to swoop in for rebounds, he knows that Boston will need him to be more of a rebounder for them this season. 

“One of my things is always leading by example,” Horford said. “Making sure that I’m helping the guys in any way I can so they feel comfortable in the offense. It’s forcing us to be more vocal on the offensive end. It gets us talking; it gets us more engaged and it’s a good habit to start building. Sometimes when you are playing, you lose all that once you get into games. That’s one of the things we need to do, keep talking with each other and continue to play through mistakes.”

Celtics may get big surprise tonight when they host Nuggets

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Celtics may get big surprise tonight when they host Nuggets

BOSTON -- If the Celtics' preparation for tonight's game against Denver focused on the Nuggets' last handful of games, they might be in for a big surprise tonight.
 
Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets' 6-foot-10 big man, suffered a left ankle injury on Nov. 30 against Chicago, and has not played in the six games since then. But coach Mike Malone has indicated that there's a chance that he may be on the floor tonight.

In addition to averaging 15.5 points per game, the third-year big man leads the team in rebounds (10.6) and assists (4.6) per game.
 
"He's getting closer," Malone told reporters in Detroit on Tuesday. "He's moving better. I think he's managing the pain."
 
As far as whether Jokic will play tonight?

"We'll wait and see," Malone said.
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight's game between Boston and Denver. 
 
DENVER DEFENSE? 
When it comes to scoring, the Nuggets can hold their own with the best of them. But defense? Definitely not their forte. Denver comes into tonight's game giving up 106.8 points per game, which ranks 20th in scoring defense. Boston hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard this season (103.2 points per game, ranking 21st in the NBA), but you gotta believe being at home against a team that has struggled all season defensively will be just what the Celtics need to have a solid night offensively.  
 
SECOND-CHANCE POINTS
The Celtics' improved rebounding has been critical to their ability to not only keep teams off the glass, but also limit opponents second-chance points. Boston allows a league-low 10.1 second-chance points but will be put to the ultimate test against Denver. The Nuggets come into tonight's matchup averaging a league-best 15.6 second-chance points per game. 
 
BENCH SCORING
Second-unit play will be critical tonight, especially considering how, according to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics are eighth in the NBA in fewest points allowed off the bench (32.6) while Denver ranks seventh in bench scoring (39.8).
 
CORNER 3
Boston is going to have to pick up its defense when it comes to the corner 3-ball, which has been a Nuggets' strength all season. According to nba.com/stats, Denver is shooting 45.0 percent on corner 3's this season, which ranks fourth in the NBA. And the Celtics, while having the league's top-ranked defense, have not defended the corner 3 so well. They come into tonight's game allowing opponents to shoot 43.4 percent on corner 3's, which ranks 24th in the league. 

CLUTCH PLAY
If tonight's game involves clutch plays needing to be made down the stretch, you have to give the edge to Boston. The Celtics have had 19 games this season that fall under "clutch" parameters (ahead or behind by five points or less in the last five minutes of play) while the Nuggets have had eight. In those 19 games, Boston has a 14-5 record and its .737 winning percentage is fourth-highest win the NBA. The Nuggets aren't too far behind at .625 (5-3), which is the seventh-highest winning percentage in "clutch" situations.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Denver Nuggets

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Denver Nuggets

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics host the Nuggets at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's look to return to winning ways

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE