Celtics

Al Horford is Celtics' answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo

Al Horford is Celtics' answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo

WALTHAM, Mass – Brad Stevens knows, even if he had a full complement of talent available, the Celtics will need multiple players to step up their play in their first-round series against Milwaukee.

That said, no Celtic will be under greater scrutiny in this series than Al Horford.

The reason is two-fold.

Boston went into the season with a Big Three model, only to enter the postseason with one member of that talented triumvirate healthy – Al Horford. And while he is praised for his versatility to contribute in a multitude of ways, his job in this series will be to do what no one has done this season – slow down fellow All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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 “I trust Al to guard any position because he can really move his feet, he’s got great size and length, and his attention to detail is excellent,” said Stevens. “That said, it’s not on one person’s matchup the entire night. We have to throw a lot of different bodies at him.”

He’s right. 

But as we saw in the four regular-season games against Milwaukee, even that won’t be enough to shut him down. 

In the four games against Boston – with both teams winning two games apiece - Antetokounmpo averaged a staggering 33.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game while shooting 53.9 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from 3-point range.

Still, Horford, while far removed from shutting him down, was arguably Boston’s best defender when matched up against Antetokounmpo. 

According to NBA.com/stats, the Greek Freak was 14-for-29 (48.2 percent) from the field when Horford was the primary defender. The rest of Boston’s defenders collectively allowed Antetokounmpo to shoot 56.7 percent (34-for-60) from the field in the four games played this season. Horford, a strong candidate to be named to one of the NBA’s all-defensive teams this season, is aware of how daunting a task it will be for the Celtics to limit Antetokounmpo’s impact. 

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“I think it’s just his ability to finish, and you know he’s a really athletic player that’s able to finish extremely well around the rim,” Horford said. “And just his ability to also get on the break and create chaos that way. So it’s just important for us to make sure that we’re between him and the basket as much as we can and just making sure that he’s not getting anything easy – easier said than done. He’s had some big games against us this year but that’s the point of emphasis that we have had heading into this series.”

And as much as the focus for Boston will be on how to collectively limit Antetokounmpo, all eyes will still be on Horford and how well – or woeful – he is defensively against Antetokounmpo. 

“The way that I look at it is I’m not going up against him, we’re going up against the Bucks, and a guy like him, you have to be able to contain him as a unit,” Horford said. “And that’s our mindset for the game.”

The Celtics will attack Antetokounmpo with a multitude of defenders throughout this series. Along with Horford, look for Boston’s Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye and Jayson Tatum to spend time defending Antetokounmpo. 

But ultimately, the Celtics will be counting on Horford to make a significant impact. 

“I mean just in general Al’s very important,” Stevens said. “He’s important to the whole growth of our organization and to what we try to accomplish in practice and games. I don’t think he’s any more or less important, he’s just always been really important. Yeah, he’s good.”

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    NBA rumors: Celtics, Mavs at 'front of the line' trying to lure Kemba Walker

    NBA rumors: Celtics, Mavs at 'front of the line' trying to lure Kemba Walker

    The Boston Celtics' pursuit of All-Star point guard Kemba Walker in NBA free agency is serious, according to reports Tuesday.

    The New York Times' Marc Stein reported Tuesday the Celtics were emerging as a "stealth suitor" for the Charlotte Hornets guard, who will be an unrestricted free agent beginning June 30. Stein added more reporting regarding the Celtics and Walker in another tweet later Tuesday afternoon.

    Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer termed the Celtics' interest in Walker as "serious."

    The Celtics will be in need of a top-tier point guard if Kyrie Irving leaves Boston in free agency, and recent reports (as well as the latest betting odds) indicate the Brooklyn Nets are the most likely destination for him. Boston could always re-sign restricted free agent Terry Rozier, but Walker is a clear upgrade over the Celtics' backup point guard.

    Walker was an All-Star starter last season (his first ASG appearance) and averaged a career-high 25.6 points in 82 games for the Hornets. He is eligible for a super-max contract extension with the Hornets that would be worth more than $200 million over five seasons. That's a lot of money, but the Hornets are nowhere near a legitimate NBA title contender, so Charlotte would not be the best option for him if winning is very important.

    The Mavericks reportedly are a contender to sign Celtics forward Al Horford, who's also an unrestricted free agent. Luka Doncic, the newly crowned 2018-19 Rookie of the Year Award winner, handled the ball a lot for the Mavs last season, but he's not a true point guard. A Walker-Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis trio for the Mavericks could help them compete in what should be a wide open Western Conference title race next season as a result of the Golden State Warriors being decimated by injuries.

    Click here for the top 35 NBA free agents available this offseason>>>

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    Boston-bleeding Marcus Smart ready for whatever's next for Celtics

    Boston-bleeding Marcus Smart ready for whatever's next for Celtics

    BOSTON — Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart said he won’t begrudge Kyrie Irving and Al Horford if they elect to depart this summer but he was staunch in suggesting that Boston remains a destination for championship-seeking players.

    Smart, decked out in a Celtics-green cobra shirt and a black bandana, met with reporters Tuesday during a break in his annual youth camp on the campus of Brandeis University and went to bat for the city when asked about the notion that players might not want to come here.

    "I think it kind of speaks for itself. We’ve got the Patriots, we’ve got the Bruins, we’ve got the Red Sox, we’ve got the Celtics. You name me another city that’s got four teams in different categories like that that’s all known for winning championships,” said Smart. "It gets no better than that. 

    "I don’t know who is saying that, or why they’re saying it, who knows? But, for me, being here and experiencing it for myself, Boston is definitely a place you want to be, especially if you’re trying to compete for a championship.”

    Smart said he’s talked with Irving since the end of the season but steered clear of basketball topics. He admitted Irving’s potential departure, and that of Horford, did catch him by surprise a bit, though he’s become numb to change during his time in the NBA. Smart is focused on what he can do to get Boston back on track after a maddening year.

    "I see my role as bigger than ever now,” said Smart, who started alongside Irving much of last season but could slide into the first-unit point guard role depending on how Boston’s offseason plays out. "Just because, once again, being that longest-tenured Celtic, going into my sixth season and really understanding [coach] Brad [Stevens] and this organization, and the system that he likes to run, and just, that’s who I am. 

    "And I’ve got to be that times 10 now, because we are going through some things. We did have a bad year. We’ve just got to keep everybody on the same track.”

    Smart said he’s bullish on Boston’s outlook moving forward.

    "I'm excited. We're excited. As competitors, you have a season like we did last year and it leaves a funny taste in your mouth,” said Smart. "We use that as our motivation and to keep going. We're very excited. Whatever team or whatever people or whoever is on the board or whoever is on this roster with us, we're excited to have them to go out there and fight.”

    Smart praised Boston’s quartet of recent draftees, which included a pair of backup point guards in Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters. He said he’s unlikely to meddle in free agency, letting Danny Ainge and his staff handle that, but offered to make a pitch if needed.

    Reflecting on last season, Smart hinted that the tensions reported in Boston’s locker room might not have been as catastrophic as suggested. Right after the season, Smart went to bat for Irving when it was suggested he caused much of Boston's issues this season.

    "Even in the regular season, it wasn't a disconnect,” said Smart. "It was just a lot of people kind of got in and -- it was like a telephone game. You tell one person this and by the time it gets back to you, the whole narrative had changed. That's kind of how it goes. Like I said, you can only control what you can control. You focus on what you can focus on. As a player, you focus on getting into the gym, getting yourself better and you let the front office handle the front office stuff and you do what it is you need to do for the team."

    Still, Smart sounds eager to wipe the slate clean and start a new season.

    "Hey, the thing is, the Raptors just won the championship, right? But they’ve got to start back over from the beginning just like we do,” said Smart. "So we all start back over at the starting line, we all start at zero, and we all get a chance to do it. So everybody’s starting over, regardless if they have the same team or not, they’ve all got to start from the beginning. 

    "That’s how we take it. We take it as we come in, and we have an opportunity to do something special, and we get another chance to do it.”

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