Celtics

Horford showing he's a vital cog in Celtics' success

Horford showing he's a vital cog in Celtics' success

BOSTON – When you talk to NBA folks about Al Horford, they speak of his leadership and willingness to do whatever is required in order for his team to be successful.

Often that has meant sacrificing parts of his game because it was in the best interest of the team.

But as we get deeper and deeper into this season, it’s becoming clearer that the Celtics need the "no-holds-back" Al Horford who tends to fill up the stat sheet in several categories and maybe just as important, significantly impacts winning.

Monday’s matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks was one of those games, a game in which Horford once again flirted with a triple-double in helping lead Boston to a 111-100 win over the Bucks.

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Horford continued to play at a highly efficient level, scoring 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting to go with nine rebounds and eight assists.

“He’s been really good,” said head coach Brad Stevens of Horford.

For the season, Horford is shooting 55.9 percent from the field along with connecting on a career-best 44.6 percent of his 3-pointers.

Horford's shooting touch has been red-hot lately, connecting on at least 53.3 percent of his shots from the field in each of Boston’s last five games.

“I think it’s just the work I’ve been putting in,” Horford said. “It’s starting to pay off for me.”

And the Celtics (21-4) who currently have the best record in the NBA.

As good as Boston has been thus far, players and coaches are unanimous in believing that they’ve only scratched the surface of this team’s potential.

And the play of Horford will have a lot to do with that growth.

“It’ll just continue to get better,” said Boston’s Kyrie Irving.

As far as Horford is concerned, Irving added, “He’s just shooting the right shots and being aggressive, and him getting more comfortable with where his shots are coming from and being able to adjust on the fly. We want to be aggressive and he knows that.”

And maybe more important, he’s showing it with his play that has been a vital cog in the Celtics’ success this season which has not only padded their win total but also brought about increased respect from foes.

“They are a really good team and from start to finish they play hard,” said Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo. “They play together so with a team like that, you have to be disciplined on defense and keep playing hard.”

Said Stevens: “He’s playing at a good level.”

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Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

While the Boston Celtics remain tops in the NBA in defensive efficiency with a rating of 100.7, there’s no escaping the reality that they have had some slippage lately which is why the Celtics are 3-3 in their last six games.

Plugging the team’s defensive leaks won’t get any easier tonight against an Indiana Pacers team that has been among the better offensive clubs in the league this season.

The Pacers come into tonight’s game averaging 108.2 points which ranks seventh in the NBA.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens attributes some of the Celtics’ struggles recently to a lack of consistent effort, a sentiment that’s shared among his players.

“We definitely need to play with better effort more consistently,” Boston’s Semi Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “There’s really no excuse for it. We know we have to better, going forward.”

Especially against a Pacers team that’s playing with a chip on its shoulder this season.

Predicted by many to be among the worst teams in the East after trading away Paul George in July for Victor Oladipo and Domantis Sabonis, Indiana (17-13) comes into tonight’s game in a tie for the fourth-best record in the East.

Boston beat the Pacers 108-98 earlier this season, but Indiana was without Oladipo who was out with a bruised right knee.

His availability tonight and his team-leading 24.4 points per game, will certainly have an impact on tonight’s outcome.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between Boston and Indiana.

INDY POINTS OFF TURNOVERS

Boston’s transition defense which has been up and down lately, will be challenged early and often by an Indiana team that likes to get out and run especially off of turnovers. They come into tonight’s game averaging 19.0 points off turnovers which ranks fourth in the NBA. Meanwhile, Boston is giving up 14.3 points off turnovers this season which is second in the league. Boston has given up 13.3 points off turnovers in the last six games, but it ranks just ninth in the league in that span.

SABONIS’ LOVE FOR THE CELTICS

Domantas Sabonis’ father Arvydas, spent his entire NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers. But according to Domantas, his father was a huge fan of the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird.

Oh, there’s more.

“His favorite color is green, so he loves it even more,” Domantis said shortly after his workout for the Celtics in 2016. “Just everything about the team, the tradition, the winning … everything.”

ARON BAYNES

Teams with physical, smack-first, ask-questions-later-type centers, have given the Pacers problems this season; specifically, Andre Drummond of Detroit and Steven Adams of Oklahoma City, both of whom gave the Pacers major fits while each finishing with a double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds. Baynes has provided a much-needed presence around the rim for the Celtics, and has a defensive rating of 94.9 which is tops among all NBA players averaging 15 or more minutes played per game.

INDY’S PULL-UP GAME

There really isn’t any time when the Celtics can relax defensively against a Pacers team that has shown itself to have a diverse set of skills when it comes to scoring. For example, when it comes to pull-up shooting, they rank among the league’s best in several categories. According to NBA.com/stats, they are shooting a league-best 42.8 percent on pull-up shots which generates 21.9 points per game which ranks fourth in the league.

JAYSON TATUM

The Celtics have won three of their last five games, with each win followed by a loss in that span. There are lots of factors, but one that jumps out is the scoring of Jayson Tatum. In the two losses, he scored four and seven points, respectively. But in the three wins, the 19-year-old reached double figures in each game, scoring at least 11 points. For the season, he’s averaging 14.4 points while shooting 53.9 percent on 3’s and 53 percent from the field when the Celtics win. In losses, his scoring drops to 11.6 points per game while shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 40.9 percent on 3’s.

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pacers in Indiana. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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