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.”


Report: Kyrie Irving to undergo knee exam Thursday


Report: Kyrie Irving to undergo knee exam Thursday

The second opinion on Kyrie Irving’s sore left knee will be done on Thursday, according to the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett.

Irving, who has missed the last four games, is expected to decide between having a surgical procedure performed to help alleviate some of the soreness, or continue to manage it with rest.


During the 2015 NBA Finals, Irving suffered a fractured left kneecap injury which was the beginning of Irving’s left knee issues.

While Irving has had soreness of some form during various stretches of play this season, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has seen him making progress recently.

“That knee is still sore,” Stevens said. “He’s worked really hard to manage it throughout the entire season. He’s had some pretty good days recently. I’m encouraged by the big picture.”

But Stevens has made it clear that he supports Irving getting a second opinion, adding that Irving’s absence is due to the knee being too sore for him to play at a level he’s accustomed to.

“He’s out because of knee soreness, not because we’re choosing to rest him,” Stevens said. “That’s the bottom line. Again, we want him to feel 110 percent. He wants to feel 110 percent. Obviously, we’re fortunate we created a cushion early on in the year with playoffs and everything else. This is not one of those situations where we’re choosing to rest someone; it’s because he has a sore knee.”

    Greg Monroe looks comfortable as bigger offensive focal point

    Greg Monroe looks comfortable as bigger offensive focal point

    BOSTON – Jayson Tatum dropped 23 points, snatched 11 rebounds and Boston’s injury-riddled roster squeaked out a 100-99 upset win over Oklahoma City.

    It was a good game for Tatum, but teammate Marcus Morris wasn’t moved one bit by Tatum’s historical performance.

    “Now it’s not. … I’m not even impressed no more,” Morris said. “It’s to the point where I know what he’s going to bring, I know what he’s capable of. So it’s more like, I expect that now just being around, watching him play day-in and day-out, practicing with him.”

    Teammates agree that the 20-year-old Tatum is growing up right before our eyes.

    “With Jaylen and Kyrie being out, he’s looking to be more aggressive,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “Everybody is going to talk about offense, but on the defensive end he didn’t have an easy matchup, going against Paul George. I felt like he did a great job.”

    Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 100-99 comeback win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.


    Boston’s second unit is still getting the job done even as injuries rob it of its core group that includes Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier who are now both starters. The Celtics’ new-look second unit was still impactful in Boston’s 100-99 squeaker past the Oklahoma City Thunder. Against the Thunder, Boston’s bench outscored Oklahoma City 35-10.


    The big man continues to come up big for the Boston Celtics off the bench. Injuries have forced other key reserves into the starting lineup which has led to Monroe becoming an even bigger focal point offensively when he’s on the floor. Against the Thunder, he had 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting with six rebounds.


    You never really know what you’re going to get from the Boston Celtics when it comes to rebounding the basketball. Well, Tuesdaynight was the good rebounding Celtics whose ability to control the glass was a huge factor in the victory as Boston out-rebounded Oklahoma City 52-44.


    Remember how Marcus Smart would struggle to make shots, and still play major minutes and still make a meaningful impact? Well, Semi Ojeleye had that kind of game for the Celtics. The 6-foot-6 rookie missed all six of his field goal attempts, but showed some serious versatility against the Thunder with defensive stints on each of Oklahoma City’s Big Three of Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Russell Westbrook.


    Marcus Morris made the game-winner and Jayson Tatum was as strong on the floor as we’ve ever seen him. But arguably the biggest X-factor in Boston’s win was the play of Larkin. His ability to control the flow of the game, getting his teammates in and out of sets was critical to the win, as was his offense. For the game, Larking had 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the field.