Five takeaways: Horford shows off 'amazing' playmaking ability
Wednesday’s game against Minnesota was yet another night in which the ball found its way into the hands of Al Horford and he reacted to the defense.
But Horford noticed something.
The Timberwolves never sent a double team or tilt his way.
So what did he do?
Rather than look to pass, he instead looked for ways to pass by defenders for easy scores or as it turned out, lightly contested shots.
And the end result was a 117-104 Celtics win in which he flirted with a triple-double of 20 points, 9 rebounds and eight assists.
But in typical Horford fashion, arguably the team’s best passer was dishing out the credit for his strong game.
“The guys were finding me a lot in pick and roll action and I was able to make plays,” Horford said. “That’s how I like to play, and I felt they really played through me a lot.”
And as the game slows down in the playoffs, Boston’s ability to play more through Horford will go far in determining how well the Celtics’ offense executes in half-court sets which are more plentiful come playoff time.
“I was able to get some post ups,” Horford said. “They weren’t really helping, leaving me one-on-one and I took advantage of that.”
And while his 20 points scored certainly stood out, what impresses his teammates has been his consistency offensively; particularly when it comes to passing the ball.
Horford is averaging a career-high 5.0 assists which is tops among all NBA centers this season.
“He might be the best passer on our team, one of the best passers in the NBA to me,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “His playmaking ability is amazing.”
Here are five other takeaways from Wednesday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
With Thomas out, look for Jaylen Brown’s minutes to take a slight spike Friday night at Brooklyn. And as we’ve seen of late, the more he plays the better he performs. Lots of players chipped in to Boston’s 117-104 win over Minnesota, including Brown whose defensive rating was a team-best 97.7 along with a rebounding percentage of 17.9 percent which was also tops among Celtics against the Timberwolves.
HORFORD’S INSIDE SCORING/INTERIOR DEFENSE
The numbers have been stacking up for Al Horford all season. But he was on another level in Boston’s win over the Timberwolves. He had 20 points along with nine rebounds and eight assists. Most impressive with his play was the way he controlled the paint, evident by 12 of his 20 points coming on points in the paint. And he was just as impactful defensively. He contested a team-high 13 shots while limiting those he guarded to an effective Field Goal Percentage of .407.
The second unit of Boston has been a work in progress all season, primarily because the starting unit and its plethora of injuries and illnesses has forced head coach Brad Stevens to call upon them a lot. But as we saw against Minnesota, Boston’s backups can contribute in so many levels of play. Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk each had 10 points. Jonas Jerebko had a solid game defensively along with chipping in four points, five rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier (8 points, three assists) had a solid game as well. When they are clicking, the Celtics became an extremely difficult team to beat.
THE BRADLEY FACTOR
When Avery Bradley returned to action after missing 18 straight with a right Achilles injury, it took some time before he looked comfortable shooting the ball. Whatever rust he had offensively due to the long lay-off, appears to be behind him now. He had 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting against Minnesota which continues a trend in which he has increased his scoring each of the last three games.
MORE REST FOR ISAIAH THOMAS
Even before the Celtics ruled Thomas (right knee bruise) out for Friday’s game against Brooklyn and Sunday’s matchup at Philadelphia, they were taking stealth strides towards getting Thomas some rest. At his current rate, Thomas’ minutes in the fourth quarter will decrease for the third straight month. And on Thursday, he played just under four minutes in the fourth, with nine other Celtics logging more time. Thomas stays in rhythm, gets some in-game rest and the Celtics continue to win – it’s a win-win for both the franchise and the franchise’s top player.