AMHERST, Mass. --  One by one, the Boston Celtics were getting any and every shot they wanted in the first quarter.

Yes, it was against the Philadelphia 76ers and yes it was a preseason game.

But as bad as they’ve been defensively, there’s no way Boston should have had so many wide open shot attempts to start the game which collectively added up to the Celtics jumping out to a 25-9 lead.

Boston head coach Brad Stevens quickly pointed out that all of the starters were playing well.

But there was one starter whose play seemed to open things up for everyone.

That player was Al Horford.

The way he played both ends of the floor, provided help defense when needed and seemingly made all the right plays at the right time … Horford delivered the kind of goods you expect from a $113 million player.

But Horford is not a big numbers guy which is why there’s a segment of the NBA basketball community that doesn’t see the value in a 14-point, 9-rebound 30-year-old forward signed to a maximum salaried contract.

Well, they would be right if that’s all that Horford provided.

It’s still early in his tenure with the Celtics, but what really jumps out about Horford is his ability to lead without necessarily trying to.

It just happens.

During the team’s Green & White scrimmage last week, it was Horford who addressed the crowd beforehand and looked totally comfortable, at ease and in control doing so.


And in Boston’s 92-89 preseason loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday, their first game against someone other than themselves, it was Horford once again leading the charge.

He scored the first basket of the game, and soon followed that up with the first offensive rebound of the season for the Celtics.

And as he continued to move along the baseline or pop out at the top of the key or tilt defensively, players for both teams reacted to his movements.

And that movement created some great shot opportunities for his fellow starters and tough shot attempts or clogged passing lanes for the Sixers.

“We were getting a lot of good looks,” Horford said. “That’s what you want on offense.”

The Celtics made eight 3-pointers for the game, five of which came in the first quarter.

Horford didn’t knock down a single one, but his presence was a major factor in them coming about with such ease.

“He’s going to draw attention,” Stevens said. “When he’s in the seam and roll he usually makes the right play. He’s had a nice, contagious effect on that group. It didn’t happen the first couple of days because they were still kind of figuring each other out.”

But it appears as though Horford and his teammates may now be much closer to being on the same page.

Stevens said Monday was Horford’s most productive practice and his play in Tuesday’s game was arguably his best stretch as a Celtic.

Horford didn’t come to Boston with any definitive expectations as far as how he would fit in and how quickly that would come about.

But even he acknowledges that he didn’t think things would come together as quickly as they seem to be.

That sentiment has a lot to do with the first unit problems, many of which Horford says are partly his fault as he tries to figure out how to make his teammates better and vice versa.

But he does say that a lot of the thinking that he was doing at the start of camp, isn’t happening as much.

“Tonight I just went out there and played,” Horford said. “Helped the team whichever way I could. It felt good.”