BOSTON -- In the third quarter on Monday night, Al Horford drew a foul around the basket after being hit in the head on an earlier play on an attempted dunk when no call was made.
It wasn’t the first time in the game that he was whacked by the Brooklyn Nets, and the usually low-key, man-of-few-words gave an earful to the nearest official. The veteran big man was promptly hit with a technical foul.
This is an intense, agitated, feisty Al Horford, who has been on the kind of tear lately we haven’t seen -- scratch that, the NBA hasn’t seen -- from him in years.
The 112-104 win over the Brooklyn Nets was Horford’s third straight double-double game for Boston (31-19), the first time he has done that donning a Celtics uniform.
You have to go back to playoff Al, circa 2015, when he was with the Atlanta Hawks to find the last time he put together three consecutive double-doubles (May 9-13 vs. Washington).
And in the regular season, it was the lockout-shortened 2013-14 season (Nov. 1-5, 2013).
“I’m playing more in the paint area as opposed to being more on the perimeter so that’s allowed me to be by the basket, get some rebounds, get that going,” Horford said.
Like most of the NBA's stretch bigs, Horford has spent a considerable amount of time away from the basket.
During the regular season, only 48 percent of Horford’s shot attempts have come inside the paint or the restricted area according to nba.com/stats.
In the last three games Horford has played, the 32-year-old has found a home inside the paint and restricted area, which is where 56.8 percent of his shots have come from.
And he has done it lately against some of the better shot-blocking bigs in the NBA.
In Boston’s 107-99 win over Miami on Jan. 21, Horford had 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting, which included him making four of his five attempts inside the paint or restricted area with Heat shot-blocking specialist Hassan Whiteside lurking around.
And last night against the Nets and their young shot-blocking stud Jarrett Allen, Horford was 6-for-11 for the game, including 5-for-8 in the paint and restricted area.
Seeing Horford play with a little more pep in his step is also a function of him sitting out seven straight games earlier this year with what the medical staff described as patellofemoral pain syndrome in his left knee.
The time off has done Horford’s body a world of good, and has allowed the Celtics to gradually increase his minutes to where he’s playing closer to his career 32.9 minutes played per game average.
Marcus Morris went through a similar situation last season when he had some knee soreness and missed games to rest.
Morris credits that time away from allowing his body to strengthen up enough to finish last season strong, and help propel him to what has been a breakout 2018-19 season in which he’s averaging career highs in several categories.
“It’s very important,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston recently. “Here in Boston, we’re playing to get to the Finals. You want everybody to be physically ready for that.”
And Horford knows this all too well.
“As the season goes on it gets more intense,” he said. “Teams starting to try and separate from one another, trying to establish yourself … that’s just me being competitive.”
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