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.



Bleacher Report puts Jayson Tatum on 'overhyped' list

Bleacher Report puts Jayson Tatum on 'overhyped' list

Bleacher Report ran a piece Tuesday listing the NBA's five "most overhyped players" entering the coming season. Jayson Tatum leads the list. Hold me back. 

These pieces are obviously subjective as hell, as they rely on "people probably think X," which may or may not be the reality of the situation. In the case of Tatum, writer Grant Hughes acknowledges that he feels Tatum is a franchise player, but that he could be a victim of the team for which he plays. 

Writes Hughes

Kyrie Irving has never been one to take a backseat, and with him back on the floor, it'll be much harder for Tatum to build on his postseason takeover. Throw Gordon Hayward into the mix, and there will be even fewer touches for the 20-year-old wing. And that's to say nothing of Jaylen Brown, who's a superior defender at the moment and averaged 18 points per game in the playoffs on more efficient shooting than Tatum managed. He's due for an increased role as well.

C's fans can first breathe at the fact that Hughes most certainly is not calling Tatum overrated. Then, if they're rational, they can wonder whether Hughes has a point. 

Tatum's five best scoring games of the regular season came with Kyrie out of the lineup, one of which was prior to Irving being shut down for the season. He obviously went on to average over four and a half points more in the postseason without Irving (18.5) than he did in the regular season (13.9). 

No, Tatum is not going to be the Celtics' top scorer this season. He also won't be a rookie again. Dude looked like he tacked on like 80 pounds of muscle like a month after the season ended. He's been in gyms destroying everyone from Joel Embiid to a hilarious assortment of camp-going children. He's out here mentoring Kobe

Even if Brad Stevens wants to get creative and have Tatum come off the bench (that doesn't need to happen; he can start the five best players), Tatum is a lethal enough offensive player to put up 20 a night. 

But back to the idea of him being overhyped. I don't think anyone's putting the kid in the MVP conversation. They probably just saw the third overall pick have a really good rookie year and figure that he'll continue to blossom into a star, if he isn't one already. 

The other players listed in the piece were DeMarcus Cousins, Zach LaVine, Josh Jackson and Kawhi Leonard. Leonard falls into the rule of thumb that if you're one of the five best players in the league, as Kawhi is, it's really easy for people to overhype you. That's not Leonard's fault. 

But the other guys? Who the heck is hyping -- let alone overhyping -- Zach LaVine? The only time Zach LaVine made headlines this summer was when he was given an offersheet by the Kings that most felt was too much and the Bulls matched it. Everyone thinks he's a stinky defensive player who's coming off an ACL injury. Unless there's some expectation that he's going to start averaging six or seven more points a night than he ever has, he isn't being overhyped. He's just overpaid. 

The Cousins pick could very well be fair. As Hughes writes, Boogie is a "luxury, not a game-changer for the Warriors." It's very possible that his impact on the Warriors won't be as significant as the league fears. Maybe he takes longer than expected to come back. Maybe when he does come back, he proves to be a divisive player with that group. Then again, maybe he gives them 25 and 12 a night and the Warriors go undefeated in the postseason. 

Selling Jackson as overhyped is tough. He's a second-year player who finished his rookie year on fire, including a 36-point performance against the Warriors. He sure as hell won't average 22.6 points like he did over his last 10 games as a rookie, but does anyone think he will? Nobody thinks he's a great shooter, but it's reasonable to expect something approaching the 18.7 he averaged post All-Star break, plus his usual strong defending.

Anyway, this Hughes fellow should have put Ben Simmons on the list. Guy never shoots threes. 


Knicks, Nets reportedly in mix for Kyrie-Butler combo in '19

Knicks, Nets reportedly in mix for Kyrie-Butler combo in '19

Remember those rumors of Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler teaming up in free agency next year? Well, that buzz is back and Boston isn't the rumored destination.

Two league sources told Business Insider that the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets could be well-positioned to land the two players, with one source saying the chatter is "substantial."

"It wouldn't surprise me if either New York team or potentially both New York teams hit it big next summer," one source said.

That echoes a Chicago Sun-Times report from July which said the Celtics and Timberwolves stars had been talking about how they could team up. Each player can opt out after this season and Irving has made it known he'll be heading to free agency. The Kyrie-to-the-Knicks rumors have been around for a while.