Horford’s basketball intuition the key in the clutch

Horford’s basketball intuition the key in the clutch

In the closing seconds of the Celtics’ 111-110 thriller in Denver, Al Horford delivered in a way that speaks volumes about him as a player and why his value far too often isn’t easily quantified.

With a few ticks on the shot clock, Horford delivered a head fake, put the ball on the floor for what momentarily looked like a drive to the rim.

The Nuggets defense certainly thought so, which is why they collapsed into the paint to take that shot away or at least make it a contested look at the rim.

Aware of this, at the last second, Horford passed to Jaylen Brown for what turned into the winning three-pointer.

It was Horford once again doing the little things which, as we’ve seen, are a pretty big deal to him and the Celtics, who continue to sit atop the Eastern Conference standings.

“Tremendous play by Al,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “The drive and kick at that moment, a lot of guys shoot that floater or kind of a layup where you have to extend over somebody. That’s not a great percentage shot, especially with guys flying in. But to have the wherewithal to kick it to the corner was the right basketball play.”

And as we’ve seen for most of his career, making the right play has been a constant with Horford.

“That was a wide-open three in the corner, brought to you by Al Horford,” Kyrie Irving told NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper afterward.

Teammates have marveled at Horford’s basketball intuition all season.

“Al, he’s such a smart player,” Daniel Theis told NBC Sports Boston earlier this season. “He always seems to be in the right place at the right time, making the right decision. He’s a really, really good player.”

Here are five other takeaways from the victory that closed out the four-game Western trip at 2-2:

After missing a Jan. 18 game against Philadelphia due to a sore left shoulder, Irving has been in a nice shooting grove. In the five games he has played in since the Sixers meeting, Irving has averaged 31.4 points, 5.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 50 percent (18-for-36) from 3-point range and 59.2 percent (58-for-98) from the field.

The Celtics players and coaching staff haven’t been the same since returning to the states after playing in London against the Sixers on Jan. 11. The Celtics have seen their stats at both ends of the floor drop, particularly when it comes to defense and rebounding. But the real loss comes in the form of just that; losses. Since returning from the London, Boston has lost five of its seven games in what’s shaping up to be a tough month.

The 3-point shot has been a weapon of choice for the Celtics all season. But never have we witnessed so many Celtics deliver one big shot after another. By the end of the night, the Celtics had set a new franchise record as seven different players made at least a pair of 3-pointers.

With no Marcus Smart (hand laceration) and no Shane Larkin (sore right knee) on Monday, much of the playmaking duties off the bench were at the doorstep of Terry Rozier. And to his credit, he made himself quite at home with eight points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Celtics.

One of the nasty little habits Boston sometimes gets itself into is committing too many turnovers that are unforced. The Celtics weren’t about to play that game on Monday, committing 11 turnovers which resulted in 15 points for the Nuggets.



Kyrie tells ESPN his move to Boston 'trying at times, but well worth it'

Kyrie tells ESPN his move to Boston 'trying at times, but well worth it'

Kyrie Irving opened up - a little bit - in an ESPN interview with Rachel Nichols in which he reflected on his move to Boston and his upcoming movie, "Uncle Drew". 

Irving was asked how he would assess the changes in his career since leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers after requesting a trade this summer that led to the deal with the Celtics.

"Been a lot of newness, honestly," Irving said. "It's an adjustment in itself. Being with a totally different group of guys, trying to bridge that gap with our group and trying to be my best self with our group. It's been awesome. Trying at times, but well worth it."

With the Celtics in the thick of the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference, Irving said he's pleased with how it has worked out. 

"It was a big chance," Irving said, then jokingly added, "Babe Ruth said it, he swings big, may not miss big, may hit a home run, who knows?

"I'm glad I took a chance on what I wanted to do within my career."

The conversation quickly shifted to Irving's feature-length acting debut in the movie "Uncle Drew" which comes to theaters this summer. Irving said he's always had an interest in acting and has had his teammates poke fun at him when he listed his favorite music as songs from the musical "Rent".

Still, the ultimate goal is raising another championship banner in Boston and raising the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

"It's something I think about every day," Irving said. "I think about it every day."


Brad Stevens looks to revitalize reeling Celtics

Brad Stevens looks to revitalize reeling Celtics

WALTHAM, Mass. – When he wasn’t hanging out with the Boston Red Sox during spring training, Brad Stevens was marinating over tweaks that the Boston Celtics need to make in the final 23 games of the regular season.

This reassessment is vital to the team’s success going forward, which makes a lot of sense considering how Boston limped into the all-star break losing three straight and four of five.

“I told the guys any time they come up short you have to evaluate, you have to learn …”

And the lesson Stevens learned going into the break?

“Our defense, it was just, it wasn’t good the last five games obviously,” he said. “Whether it’s a small sample size, whatever the case may be it just wasn’t good and I thought against the Clippers especially, it was as bad as I’ve seen. So that was a red flag.”

The return of Marcus Smart will certainly help, but Stevens knows having Smart back won’t be the one-stop elixir to all that ails his team currently.

“We just need everybody to play to their best ability,” Stevens said. “I mean, we had good games without him defensively but there’s no doubt he’s one of our best defenders.”

Smart has been one of the top on-the-ball defenders this season and has done so even while playing major minutes.

He has a defensive rating of 98.9 which is tops among all NBA players who average at least 30 minutes played per game.

And while it remains to be seen how Boston will incorporate Smart back into the regular rotation, he’s coming back with the kind of focus and motivation that should bode well for Boston’s chances of getting back on a winning track.

“I’m a competitor and I think everybody in this league, any athlete will tell you when you gotta sit on the bench, it’s one thing to sit on the bench because for something that happened you can’t control,” Smart said. “But it’s another for something you can control. I feel like I let my team down.”

Smart suffered a right hand laceration injury on Jan. 24 when he punched a picture that caused a series of cuts that required 20 stitches to close.

When speaking to the media on Wednesday night, Smart said a piece of glass came close to a pair of tendons that had the glass in his hand been an inch or so in either direction, it could have cause significant damage and likely season-ending surgery.

Having Smart back after an 11-game absence will certainly result in Stevens changing his player combinations up.

But there’s likely to be more changes than just the re-insertion of Smart into the mix.

“We’ll definitely rotate a little bit differently,” Stevens said. “I don’t know if that means changes in the starting lineup but we definitely will have some changes; certainly it will be night-to-night but tweaks from when guys enter the game.”