Celtics-Wizards Game 2 preview: Horford finding his rhythm

Celtics-Wizards Game 2 preview: Horford finding his rhythm

BOSTON – For most of this season, Al Horford has been able to fill up the stat sheet consistently for the Boston Celtics.
But as the Celtics inched their way closer towards the top spot in the East, something changed with Horford.
And that change was definitely for the better.
“The last couple of weeks of the (regular) season when I felt like I started to get into some sort of a rhythm,” Horford said. “Some guys can go right in and do their thing and others it takes a little more time so you’re fully comfortable with the system and what’s expected.”
Indeed, Horford’s comfort level has been encouraging for the Celtics as they look to build upon their 1-0 series lead tonight against the Washington Wizards in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.
In Game 1, Horford had a near triple-double of 21 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds as the Celtics’ extended their postseason winning streak to five straight.
Seven games into the postseason and Horford has averaged 16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.0 assists while shooting 62.7 percent from the field and 50 percent on 3’s – all better than his career playoff numbers.
“Al’s had a great playoffs,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s played really well for us all year. A guy like him averaging 15 points is like other guys averaging 25 for what he means to our team. He’s been great; he’s been really good.”
Horford, a free agent last summer who had spent his first nine NBA seasons with Atlanta, had his share of ups and downs this season while working with an entirely new cast of teammates. And a concussion earlier this season that forced him to miss nine games, didn’t help matters.
“It slowed it down a bit but the good thing is that now we’re playing and now we’re together and our bench guys are stepping in time and time again and doing big things for us,” Horford said.
When told that Horford felt he hadn’t really got into a good rhythm until the last couple of weeks of the season, Stevens said, “I’m glad we’re still playing. It is hard; it’s an adjustment coming to play in a new place with different guys for a new coach. And he still helped us win a lot of games. We’re glad here’s here.”
And while his offense hasn’t always been as statistically strong as many would prefer, Horford’s defense has been rock solid all season.
One of the strengths of Horford defensively is his ability to defend both power forwards and centers. But as we’ve seen in the postseason, Horford is probably better suited defensively against power forwards.
Chicago’s Robin Lopez had some big games with Horford defending him. And in Game 1 on Sunday, Washington’s Marcin Gortat had a dominant showing with a double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds with four assists.
But the mindset in dealing with Gortat isn’t all that different than it was against Lopez.
“It was about how do we make it as tough on him as we can,” Stevens said. “That’s why we moved Al to the five (center). But Al’s production against fours (power forwards) and fives (centers) has been good all year.”
Defensively, Horford ranks among the NBA’s best when it comes to contesting shots.
In Boston’s Game 1 win over the Wizards on Sunday, Horford contested 20 shots – more than any other player with the closest to him being Otto Porter Jr. who contested 15 shots.
 His defense remains strong, he’s knocking down shots inside the paint as well as from the perimeter. And as usual, he’s finding players in position to score.
This is why the Celtics didn’t hesitate in offering him a four-year, $113 million max contract last summer.
It now looks like it just took him a little time to adjust to his surroundings.
Horford said “you can never predict” how long it will take to find your rhythm with a new team.
“This is the first time I’ve been in this position and it was different,” Horford said. “But I felt like I’ve played well at times during the year but not as well as I wanted to and now like I said, I just feel like I found my rhythm.”

Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

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Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

As expected, Kyrie Irving’s first regular season with the Boston Celtics is over following a procedure on his left knee Saturday that team officials described as being "minimally invasive," that will keep him sidelined until the playoffs.

Not having Irving for the final 10 games of the regular season is certainly disappointing for Boston, but it won’t have the kind of devastating impact one might expect a team to have to endure when the leading scorer is out for a significant chunk of time.

Friday’s 105-100 win over Portland was Boston’s fifth straight game without Irving, and 12th this season.


There’s no question Boston is a better team when he is in the lineup.

But when he’s not, the Celtics have continued to find ways to win games which is evident in their 8-4 record when Irving has not played.

Victories over teams like the Blazers only validates the quality depth that the Celtics players speak of when they talk about their team. 

“We know what we have,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “It is encouraging for our group. And for us it’s to make sure we keep working and understand when we commit on the defensive end, we’re a tough team to beat.”

But Horford acknowledges the challenge to be successful becomes infinity greater when key players such as Irving are out.

“We can’t dwell on the guys who are not here, the guys who are injured,” Horford said. “It’s tough, but it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and guys have really taken advantage of that opportunity. We’re trying to move forward. It’s hard but we don’t have an option.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 105-100 win at Portland on Friday night.


The ability to not just run a team but do so in an effective, steady manner is what separated Shane Larkin from most of the guys who saw action last night. He made timely shots, kept the ball moving (he had seven assists and just one turnover) while playing at a really good tempo which was apparent as he finished with a pace of 95.97 which was tops among all Celtics players.


Greg Monroe could not have picked a better time to play his best basketball of the season. Against the Blazers, he came off the bench and tallied a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. The 10 boards were particularly impressive with a team-best rebounding percentage of .303 and team-best usage percentage of .316 which speaks to how Boston made a point of going to Monroe early and often when he was on the floor.


It was another big-time scoring night for Marcus Morris who led all scorers with 30 points, easily becoming a fixture as Boston’s go-to guy now that Kyrie Irving (left knee) will miss the rest of the regular season. And like Irving, Morris is doing it in an extremely efficient manner. Against the Blazers, the 6-foot-8 forward was 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) shooting from the field with an effective field goal percentage eFG% of .885.


For most of Friday’s game, Jayson Tatum was not having a good game offensively with three points through three quarters of play. But Tatum, one of the NBA’s better fourth quarter players, was once again saving his best for last. He would go on to lead the Celtics with 10 points in the fourth quarter, which was a huge factor in Boston’s comeback victory.


The Celtics’ second unit looks a little different, but the production and overall impact remains strong as ever. Boston’s backups outscored their Portland brethren 26-10. But more than the points, Boston’s backups individually came up with big plays. Greg Monroe’s 10-point, 10-rebound performance stood out for obvious reasons. But the floor leadership of Shane Larkin and timely contributions from Guerschon Yabusele was also important in the win.


Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.