Atlanta Hawks

Hawks' Kent Bazemore trolls Al Horford over mysterious "flinch" move

Hawks' Kent Bazemore trolls Al Horford over mysterious "flinch" move

Kent Bazemore knows all of Al Horford's tricks.

The Atlanta Hawks guard, who played with Horford for two seasons before the big man left for the Boston Celtics, couldn't resist trolling his former teammate Saturday at TD Garden by busting out the "Horford flinch."

Here's the background: Every once in a while, Horford will randomly flinch when the basketball bounces off the rim in his direction. He's been doing it for a while, too; there's a three-minute compilation of the Horford flinch on YouTube with over 1 million views.

After Boston's 129-120 win, Bazemore confirmed on Twitter that, yes, he was messing with his "guy."

Horford revealed last year the flinch is all in good fun (he's not actually that scared of the ball), so naturally, he took Bazemore's playful mockery in stride.

Horford may have more time for tweeting down the stretch, as Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Saturday he'll hold the 32-year-old out of "three or four" of Boston's final 12 games.

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Marcus Smart's sticky fingers help Celtics soar past the Hawks

Marcus Smart's sticky fingers help Celtics soar past the Hawks

BOSTON -- With just under six minutes to play, the Boston Celtics were at a crossroads. 

Boston led by as many as 25 points over the Atlanta Hawks, and yet the Celtics soon found themselves in a fight in which the score was tied at 112. 

Boston’s defense was not very good up to that point in the game.

The Celtics offense wasn’t shabby, but it wasn’t clicking well enough to cover up the problems on defense. 

So the Celtics wound up doing what they seemingly always do in those situations - lean on Marcus Smart. 

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“You can go through a lot of our games that were close, that we end up pulling away or a lot of games like this where you win late, and he makes the play where he just rips the ball away,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. 

With the scored tied at 112, Smart stole the ball from Atlanta’s Trae Young which led to a 3-pointer by Jaylen Brown to put Boston ahead 115-112. 

Smart would steal the ball later on in the fourth from Young again, resulting in another basket for Brown that pushed Boston’s lead to 121-112. 

Boston would go on to win 129-120 over the Hawks with Smart finishing with a near double-double of 16 points and nine assists along with a season high-tying five steals. 

“He just gets a ball that he’s not supposed to get, gets his hands on a ball that very few people will get their hands on, and he did a great job,” Stevens said. 

While Smart’s improved offensive game has drawn increased attention, his focus night-in, night-out is to have a great defensive presence regardless of who he is assigned to defend. 

“For me, especially beginning of the game I try to make them uncomfortable as I can,” Smart said. “Usually guys take their time at the beginning of a game. I’m trying to speed them up as much as I can; kind of get them off their rhythm.”

And while there is a clear edict from Stevens and the coaching staff that the team has to play better defensively, all agree that the Celtics playing at a great level defensively begins more times than not with the play of Smart. 

“We kind of lean on him for that,” Stevens said. “He’s … that’s his uniqueness, is being able to come up with plays and balls that other people can’t do.”

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Irving finally able to quench his rebound thirst with Celtics

Irving finally able to quench his rebound thirst with Celtics

BOSTON — Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, with one triple-double to his name before Thursday, fell one assist shy of notching his second consecutive triple-double in the 129-120 triumph over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday at TD Garden.

Irving has produced maybe the two best rebounding efforts of his career in consecutive games, grabbing a career-best 11 boards against Atlanta. Four of the six games in which Irving has grabbed double-digit rebounds in his career have happened since Christmas.

So why the sudden uptick in rebounds?

 

“I just wasn’t asked to do it a lot in Cleveland. Tristan [Thompson] was like an offensive-rebound maniac and [LeBron James] was trying to get every rebound. I was with some thirsty guys for rebounding,” Irving said to laughter.

"And that’s OK, that’s their job, and I fully support that. So, I wasn’t really down there that much. I’ve always been capable of doing it, but helping our bigs here is a point of emphasis for us.”

While the rebounds are relatively new, the rest of Irving’s stat line has become the norm. He followed up his 31-point triple-double by scoring 30 points on 12-for-24 shooting against the Hawks. Irving added nine assists, a steal, and two blocks (including a late-game swat of John Collins with Boston up six with 20 seconds to play). 

“I’m just trying to play the game the right way, play with just unbelievable effort, making sure I’m getting guys involved, but staying aggressive looking for my shot,” said Irving. "As I do that more, it starts to open up for my teammates. I think I was being a little more conservative over the past games before All-Star break, and since then I’ve just tried to be as aggressive as possible. 

"When I’m aggressive, the team is aggressive, and it helps us. It’s a lot easier to get assists when you’re looking for your shot first, if that makes sense. Coming off and you’re acting like you’re about to shoot, you can see the defense collapsing off just a simple play. Just reading it really well.”

It’s hard to argue with the numbers that Irving has posted, particularly since the team’s much-ballyhooed cross-country flight last weekend.

Over the past six games, Irving is averaging 25.6 points while shooting 49 percent from the field to go along with 9.6 assists and 7 rebounds over 34.4 minutes per game (a noticeable uptick for a player who had gently hinted he’d like as much floor time as possible). Irving’s net rating in that span is plus-7.3 and the Celtics are 5-1, their only loss coming to the Clippers at the tail end of the four-game road trip out west.

But the rebounding, in particular, has caught the eye of his teammates.

"I think [Irving’s rebounding is] great,” said big man Al Horford, who sat out an extended stretch of the second half with knee discomfort. "I think when our guards rebound the ball like that, I think that’s when you start becoming a team that’s elite. Him and Terry and those guys coming in there getting those long rebounds, those rebounds over the top, they just make us that much better. 

"It’s been really impressive what he’s been able to do these last few games.”

Irving’s all-around effort isn’t lost on coach Brad Stevens.

"I think the way he passes the ball, he’s been active on the glass, offensive and defensive, and he’s obviously always going to go double-figures in scoring. So, I mean, every night, he’s doing a lot for us,” said Stevens. "He’s really, really played well recently. He’s had a great year anyway, but I just think he’s filling it up right now in every category and I think he’s -- at the end of games people are paying so much attention to him he’s just getting rid of it, making the right play.”

Irving and Hawks rookie Trae Young dazzled with their offensive talents, trading baskets early in a game that was often thin on defensive effort. Irving offered high praise for Atlanta’s sharpshooting guard and likes the challenges of a new generation.

"I’m greatly impressed just to see his evolution from what was it October all the way until now. He’s definitely in contention with Luka [Doncic] for Rookie of the Year,” said Irving. “It’s probably one of the closest races in a little while just for how successful those guys have been. He’s just been growing and maturing. And their coach is putting him in a great position to be successful, coming off those double drags, he and John Collins have a great friendship as you can see on the court and off the court. 

"It’s just great to see young guys like that develop, coming in and kind of proving everybody wrong. It’s his first year. First, in October everyone was like, ‘He’s too small to play. He’s this, he’s that.’ And now it’s like, ‘Oh, he’s actually [good]. He has the potential to be a special player in this league.’ So I’m excited to go against him for the next however many years we go against each other.

Irving, as he is wont to do, retold the story of how Jose Calderon produced a big game in Irving’s NBA debut (Irving often notes how Calderon “busted his ass” and his stat line seems to grow each time he mentions it). 

"That’s what makes it fun, going out there and playing against those guys,” said Irving. "Because, obviously, it’s a challenge for them. They see me in a certain light, I see them — I’ve been watching these guys for a while. But to have that competitive spirit, I love it. It’s just competition all in one — I grew up on that type of stuff. So when someone scores on you, please believe I’m going right back at them. 

"So it’s just, as you grow and go from different levels — high school to college to the NBA — now everybody’s on an even playing field and you’ve got to show why you’re here."

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