Atlanta Hawks

Resting his knee from time to time has boosted game of Celtics' Al Horford

Resting his knee from time to time has boosted game of Celtics' Al Horford

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).

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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.

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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.

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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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Smart on fine: "No suspension, so that's always a good thing"

Smart on fine: "No suspension, so that's always a good thing"

BOSTON - No one, not even NBA players, like the idea of having to cough up $35,000 for a fine. 

But considering all the potential options the NBA had when it came to doling out punishment to Marcus Smart for his altercation with the Atlanta Hawks' DeAndre Bembry on Saturday, taking a hit to wallet was the least painful for Smart and the Celtics. 

“It’s a fine. Take it, can’t get it back; gotta go with it,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “No games missed, no suspension, so that’s always a good thing.”

In the third quarter Saturday, prior to a jump ball, Smart and Bembry had what appeared to be a fairly intense verbal exchange. 

At one point, Smart appeared ready to move on from the play. 

However, an official behind Smart hit both players with a technical foul. 

For Smart, it was his second technical foul of the game and thus he was automatically ejected. 

While players and security for both teams entered the court, Smart seemed to have cooled off only to make an unexpected rush towards Bembry before being held back. 

In its statement announcing the $35,000 fine, the league said the fine for Smart was based on him, “aggressively pursuing an opponent with the intent to escalate a physical altercation and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection.”

Smart said he wasn’t overly concerned about the league suspending him for tonight’s game against Miami. 

“It was out of my hands, out of my control at that moment,” Smart said. “It’s done with, over with. We have Miami in here, and I got a good task ahead of me today; just move on.”

Without Smart, Boston (28-18) went on to win 113-105 over the Hawks for their third consecutive victory. 

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Marcus Smart fined $35,000 for incident with Bembry, avoids suspension

Marcus Smart fined $35,000 for incident with Bembry, avoids suspension

The NBA fined Celtics guard Marcus Smart $35,000 for his actions following his confrontation with the Atlanta Hawks' DeAndre Bembry in Boston's victory on Saturday night.

Smart and Bembry were separated after they exchanged words as players lined up for a jump ball. Smart was restrained by teammates and coaches but broke free, charged toward Bembry and appeared to throw a punch. 

Smart, who had drawn a technical foul earlier in the game, was assessed a second tech and was ejected. Bembry also was called for a technical foul following a video review.

Smart was unavailable after the game. Bembry said of Smart, “That’s what he does. You obviously see him doing that plenty of times. It happens. I just tried to keep my cool. I’m trying to win the game.”

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