Horford emphatically breaks out of his slump

Horford emphatically breaks out of his slump

MINNEAPOLIS -- The criticism never seems to go away when it comes to Al Horford, a player whose numbers seldom reflect what he contributes to winning.
But even he admits he was in a bit of a mini-slump that reached its nadir in a 123-120 loss at Houston, a game in which Horford struggled with his shot in addition to making a couple of key mental mistakes in the final moments.
Horford had a nice bounce-back game in Boston’s win at Chicago, but . . . it was a win at Chicago.
But having a good game against Minnesota and Karl-Anthony Towns -- who, like Horford, is a native of the Dominican Republic -- gives notice that Horford’s back on track.
He had 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting, along with 8 rebounds and 6 assists, in Boston's 117-109 win over the Timberwolves. It was his 11th 20-or-more-points performance of the season.
 It was the kind of performance that, while certainly pleasing to Celtics fans, only makes them seemingly more thirsty to see the 31-year-old, five-time All-Star play like that more often.
But Horford insists the criticism from fans, and some circles of the media, doesn’t bother him as long as the team is winning.
“For me, as a player, probably the fans don’t appreciate it, but as players and coaches you know what guys bring and that’s what I’ve always been about, helping my team win,” Horford said. “Of course I want to have bigger games or whatever, but my priority is always putting the team first and I’m OK with that.”
Horford is well aware of the criticism often tossed his way from fans, even though every team he has played for has been to the playoffs . . . including this season’s Celtics, who clinched a postseason berth with Thursday’s victory.
“The way I’ve always approached it, is if we’re winning, people want to talk about me it’s fine,” Horford said. “If we’re losing, then you really get on me and I’ll definitely try to be better to help us win. But I’m fine with it. As long as we’re winning, playing good basketball . . . that’s all I care about.”
Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 117-109 win at Minnesota which clinched a playoff berth for the Celtics.


Limiting turnovers has been one of the Celtics' strengths all season; they are currently eighth in the NBA in fewest turnovers committed (13.7) per game. But against the Timberwolves, Boston was even better at keeping its mistakes to a minimum. The C's had only 11 turnovers, which led to a mere 13 points for the Timberwolves.


Minnesota’s defense has been really bad this season, something you've never heard said about a Tom Thibodeau-coached team. The Timberwolves have allowed opponents to shoot 47.7 percent from floor, which is 29th-worst in the league. Boston only added to Minnesota's defensive woes for Minnesota, spending most of Thursday’s game shooting above 50 percent from the floor before finishing at 49.4 percent. That aggressiveness was also evident in Boston getting 27 free-throw attempts (20 makes), compared to Minnesota's 13 free throw attempts.


The more he plays, the more Marcus Morris becomes a clear and undeniable matchup challenge for teams. He is the prototype tweener who can create enough space with his dribble to score from beyond the 3-point line and from mid-range. And he’s strong enough to work smaller defenders over in the paint. Against the Timberwolves, he had 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting, but, more than the numbers, Morris’ timely scoring kept the Timberwolves at bay most of the game.


Seeing Jaylen Brown go down in the third quarter certainly was a flashback of sorts fto when Gordon Hayward landed with a hard thud in the season opener and suffered a dislocated left ankle injury that has kept him off the floor all season. Brown’s injury isn’t nearly as severe, evident by him tweeting out that he’s OK other than having a headache. To the Celtics' credit, they were able to put the incident behind them and not lose focus on the goal -- to get a win. And for them to get back to the locker room afterwards and learn that Brown was feeling better, that made the victory that much sweeter.


Boston’s transition offense has not been very effective this season. Prior to the All-Star break, the C's were 24th in the league with 9.6 fast-break points per game. Since the break, they’ve actually been even worse: 9.0 fast-break points per game, which ranks 29th in the league. But none of that mattered on Thursday with the Celtics getting out on the break and most important, finishing off plays. Boston had a decisive 14-2 advantage in fast-break points on Thursday.


Kyrie Irving has been at his best at times in the fourth quarter, and Thursday was no exception. He led the Celtics with 23 points, with eight coming in the fourth when the five-time All-Star guard made all three of his field-goal attempts to help secure the win in addition to dishing out a pair of assists.


Jaylen Brown apparently escapes serious injury after scary fall

Jaylen Brown apparently escapes serious injury after scary fall

MINNEAPOLIS – An arena full of crazed, excited, exuberant, increasingly loud NBA fans became silent with the sound of a loud thud hitting the floor. 

It was Jaylen Brown losing his grip on the rim following a third-quarter dunk, which led to a hard spill that ended his night with a little more than a minute to play in the third quarter in Boston's 117-109 win over Minnesota. 

The victory was indeed a bittersweet one for the Celtics, who were thrilled to get the win and clinch a playoff berth, but saddened that one of their teammates, one of their brothers, had suffered the kind of fall that had everyone in the building hoping for the best but expecting the worst. 


To see Brown go down seemed reminiscent in some ways to the dislocated left ankle injury suffered by Gordon Hayward in Boston’s season-opener at Cleveland. 

But Brown’s injury isn’t close to being that severe.

After the game, Brown sent out a Twitter message indicating that he was okay but he “had a headache.”

If it were more serious, there is no way Brown would have been back with the team and on the team bus heading to the airport for their return trip to Boston after the game.

NBC Sports Boston reported that Brown was in fact on the team bus and headed to the airport shortly after the game. 

A Celtics team official confirmed later on that Brown was with the team and in fact on the team plane headed back to Boston. 

“They say he’s fine; so that’s a good thing,” Terry Rozier told NBC Sports Boston. 

However, the injury is still serious enough to where Brown will be monitored for concussion-like symptoms in the coming days. 

“It was just a scary fall from everyone’s perspective,” said Kyrie Irving. “You never wanna see a guy go down like that. He was doing a full-on back flip after he fell off the rim and you know some guys land on their back when things happen like that. It’s just their hands get slippery or guys are just underneath them and scary falls happen like that. You just never wanna see that happen especially to a teammate of yours.”

Al Horford, who has had multiple concussions since coming to Boston, added, “I was just happy he was able to get up and walk on his own power. That’s one of the worst falls I’ve seen.”

Marcus Smart said he was “terrified” when he saw Brown’s fall.


“I know what that fall is like,” said Smart who added that he had similar spill in high school. “I know exactly the horror that comes with that. It’s hard to see that. You don’t wish that upon anybody. For him to get up, that’s a strong kid. I was happy to see him on his feet walking off.”

“When he left, you could tell that he was feeling a lot better,” said coach Brad Stevens. “I don’t know what it was. I don’t know what it means, but we’ll get it checked out. We’ll make sure to take care of it.”



Stars, studs and duds: Al Horford enjoys best game of season

Stars, studs and duds: Al Horford enjoys best game of season

MINNEAPOLIS – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 117-109 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves which clinched a playoff berth for the fourth straight season. 


Kyrie Irving: Down the stretch, Boston needed buckets and Irving was up to delivering. He scored eight of his team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter with makes on all three of his field goal attempts.

Nemanja Bjelica: A 6.1 points per game scorer this season, the 29-year-old power forward had a game to remember, tallying a career-high 30 points on 11-for-16 shooting to go with 12 rebounds and two assists. 

Al Horford: The numbers suggest Al Horford had a good game. But the eye test reveals it was one of his best this season, tallying 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting to go with six assists and a blocked shot along with having a plus/minus of +13 which was tops among all Celtics starters.



Marcus Morris: While it’s likely too late for serious consideration, Marcus Morris is making a strong push for some consideration for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year. He has been a matchup nightmare for opponents now that he’s healthy, with Thursday’s win over Minnesota being the latest strong performance for the 6-foot-9 forward. He had 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting and was 3-for-5 from 3-point range to go along with five rebounds. 

Terry Rozier: He continues to provide a nice balance of scoring and strong defense when he’s on the floor. Rozier had 13 points off the bench on 5-for-10 shooting, along with grabbing four rebounds. 

Karl-Anthony Towns: Big KAT wasn’t purring along with any kind of impact most of Thursday’s game. Still, he did enough things to remind us all why he was an all-star last month and stands out as one of the league’s best young bigs. He tallied a double-double of 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting along with 11 rebounds. 

Taj Gibson: One of the more consistent performers all game for the Timberwolves was Taj Gibson. He finished with 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting while also grabbing four rebounds. 


Andrew Wiggins: The absence of Jimmy Butler (right knee meniscus surgery) was supposed to be Wiggins’ green light to put up big numbers and assume a greater leadership role. Wiggins struggled mightily against the Celtics, scoring 13 points on 6-for-21 shooting. He grabbed seven rebounds but turned the ball over four times and had a plus/minus of -11.