Celtics

Horford: Fighting in NBA 'needs to stop'

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Horford: Fighting in NBA 'needs to stop'

WALTHAM, Mass. – Three Houston Rockets players entered the Los Angeles Clippers’ training room before being stopped by security but not before a profanity-laced exchange that’s sure to result in fines and possibly some suspensions.

Orlando’s Arron Afflalo threw a punch – and barely missed – hitting Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica which led to both players being ejected and for Afflalo will likely result in a suspension of some kind.

Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons got into it with Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, resulting in both players being tossed and apparently leading to Simmons signaling to Lowry that they could continue having their “discussion” in the hallway.

That hallway encounter never happened (Lowry said he was there, Simmons said he didn’t see Lowry so you believe who you want to), but the fact that it was even a possibility speaks to this being one of the more bizarre weeks in recent memory when it comes to potential fighting in the league. 

And remember … it’s only freakin’ Wednesday!

I asked Boston’s Al Horford about this.

“It’s very, very bizarre,” said Horford, now in his 11th NBA season. “I don’t think I remember any period of time, (with) all this chippiness going on. You want to compete, you want to play hard; that’s fine. But all the extra stuff, I think needs to stop. At the end of the day you need to focus on basketball. We’re here to play.”

Horford added, “I’m sure the NBA will address those things and fix them.”

No one was shocked that things got a little testy in the Houston-Los Angeles Clippers game which was played on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was the first time Chris Paul, now with the Rockets, returned to Los Angeles to face his former team. 

The Clippers won 113-102, a game filled with trash talk from both sides. But apparently the chatter soon turned to chippy play with hard fouls delivered and taken in the latter stages of play with a total of five technical fouls called, two of which were on Blake Griffin which is an automatic ejection. 

Talking trash gone bad was a factor in the Simmons-Lowry bruhaha with the Sixers emerging with the victory. 

And on Tuesday, Afflalo and Bjelica had already been assessed a technical for an earlier run-in. Soon after, there was a collision between the two which pissed off Afflalo who swung with great force at Bjelica’s face. 

“We’re professionals,” Horford said. “We can’t get caught up in that stuff.”

Horford plays around the basket and is no stranger to banging around with the big, bad angry bodies. 

But as much as there will be times when he’ll want to snap, Horford has consistently resisted the urge. 

“It’s hard; it’s hard,” he said. “But we have to remember what we play the game for; I play to win. I’m playing for my teammates and sometimes you need to take a step back before you do something you regret. That’s the way I look at it.”

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Smart cleared to play Friday

Smart cleared to play Friday

According to league sources, Celtics guard Marcus Smart was back in Boston on Tuesday and had a private workout with the team. He has been officially cleared to practice tonight and play Friday when the Celtics return after the All-Star break to play the Pistons in Detroit.

Smart has been out since he lacerated his hand swiping at a picture frame in his hotel room after a Celtics' loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles on Jan. 25.

The Celtics have lost three in a row and four of five heading into the All-Star break to drop behind the Toronto Raptors for the best record in the East and losing Smart's defense has been a key part of their recent slump. 

 


 

Horford: 'The reason why we were winning is defense and rebounding'

Horford: 'The reason why we were winning is defense and rebounding'

BOSTON – As Al Horford made his way into the interview room following the All-Star Game, he was all smiles, despite his team winding up with the loss.

Horford’s emotions had nothing to do with the then-completed game.

He was in on-to-the-next-one mode as his thoughts immediately shifted towards what he sees as unfinished business as the Celtics focus on finishing the regular season playing well and building some momentum heading into the playoffs.

“I’m just excited that now we can move on,” Horford said. “We did this [All-Star Game]. It was great. Now, we can shift our focus back on what we need to do. For our group, we really need to tighten up on the defensive end and refocusing and understanding the things that got us to where we were. The reason why we were winning is defense and rebounding.”

Indeed, shoddy defense and poor rebounding have been key bugaboos for the Celtics lately, the former being somewhat surprising considering Boston’s success most of this season is deeply rooted in them getting the job done at a high level at the defensive end of the floor.

Boston (40-19) has dropped four of their past five games in large part because they have become a bottom-10 team in several categories related to their defense and rebounding.

In the past five games, Boston has allowed 110.1 points per game which ranks 21st in the NBA.

Among the top three teams in defensive ranking most of this season, the past five games have led to the Celtics’ defensive rating climbing to 111.4 in that span, which ranks 22nd in the league.

That’s a sharp detour from their season numbers (100.9), which are tops among all teams in the NBA.

Similar struggles can be found in Boston’s rebounding. The numbers there are among the worst in the league after being in the top half most of this season.

The Celtics have averaged 42.0 rebounds in the past five games, good for 21st in the NBA. For the season, Boston averages 44.1 rebounds which ranks 11th in the league.

And Boston’s rebounding percentage in the past five games is .478, which ranks 26th in the league. For the season, their rebounding percentage (.501) is 14th in the league.

Boston’s increased emphasis on improving its offense has at times been blamed for the defensive slippage, the Celtics have been crappy in that part of the game as well recently.

In the past five games, Boston’s offensive rating is 100.1, which is 27th in the league. That’s a noticeable dip for an offense that has struggled most of this season, evident by their offensive rating this season (104.4, 21st in the NBA) also ranked among the league’s bottom-10.

While no one player by themselves will get this team back on track defensively, they will be closer to being complete this week with the expected return of Marcus Smart, who ranks among the league’s top defenders in both the eye test as well as when you crunch the numbers.

His return strengthens a defensive unit that has played at an elite level most of this season.

Of the players averaging at least 30 minutes played per game, four Celtics – Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum – rank among the top five in defensive rating.

Kyrie Irving hasn’t been too shabby a defender himself, coming in with the 11th-best defensive rating among players logging 30 or more minutes per game.

The mindset coming back from the break is to improve in all phases of play, obviously.

But knowing how much better they are when they defend and rebound at a fairly high level and the results that such play brings, it should come as no surprise if the Celtics revert to those early-season slugfests when the points were few and far between but the end result – a Celtics win – was a common occurrence.

“Those are the things [defense and rebounding] coach [Brad Stevens] and the group are going to focus on,” Horford said. “And finish these last few games the right way.”

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