The Boston Celtics continue to roll right towards the playoffs.
Sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with just 13 games left, the Celtics, after struggling so mightily to start the season, have completely flipped the switch, and now look likely to embark on a deep playoff run soon.
There have been many reasons for Boston’s turnaround, and we have extensively looked into what has been different for the team during their winning stretch of play. External factors, such as an easy stretch of games to kick off the 2022 calander year, and playing teams at the perfect time, have certainly helped, but that only gets you so far. A stingy defense, as well some improvements from head coach Ime Udoka, have been the driving factors thus far.
The defensive renaissance has been a sight to behold surely, and while the team as a whole has gotten a ton of credit, it feels like one player hasn’t really gotten as much praise, and that player would be Al Horford. Horford has been a key piece of Boston’s defense (and offense lately), and if he keeps this play up, the Celtics may think twice about potentially trading him over the offseason.
Al Horford has been a revelation for the Boston Celtics lately
Things weren’t always like this for Horford this season. He was horrible to begin the season, and for a stretch of time it seemed like replacing him in the starting lineup with Grant Williams would have been the right move. But Udoka stuck with Horford, and it’s finally beginning to pay off.
Horford kept himself in the lineup thanks to his defensive contributions, and he is quietly putting together one of the best defensive campaigns of the 2021-22 season. Horford isn’t going to make the flashy hustle plays that Marcus Smart does, or the get the earth-shattering blocks that Rob Williams gets, but it doesn’t matter. Horford lurks in the shadows and simply refuses to let his man get open looks, and it’s time he gets his recognition.
On the season, Horford is fifth in the league in player defensive rating at 102.4. That total is the highest among Celtics players, showcasing just how important he is to this defense. Horford is averaging 6.1 defensive rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and 0.7 steals per game, so while his defensive stats don’t necessarily jump off the page, he’s still managing to make his impact felt.
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While Horford’s defense has never really been in question, it feels a bit understated in how important he has been. He has been key in slowing down dominant bigs throughout the league such as Joel Embiid on the Philadelphia 76ers and Giannis Antetokounmpo on the Milwaukee Bucks. Without him last season, there guys torched Boston. Now Horford figures to play a key role in slowing them down in the postseason.
Horford has been continually great on defense, but his offensive game is finally starting to come back too. Horford has spent most of the season shooting below 30 percent from behind the arc, which had just been killing the Boston Celtics. But Horford has shot over 41 percent from behind the arc this month, which has helped bring his season percentage all the way up to 31.6 percent. Not great, but certainly better than before.
Shooting threes is a huge part of what Horford is asked to, especially considering his partner in crime in Williams is pretty much limited to paint scoring. With Horford able to sit at the top of the key and spray down shots, that opens up the offense in a way it hadn’t been able to earlier in the season.
Horford has also started taking advantage of mismatches to a much greater degree lately. We saw in the C’s recent matchup against the Dallas Mavericks that Udoka wanted to keep feeding Horford in the post against one of the Mavs smaller guards. It led to a solid 17 point outing for Horford in a game where scoring was hard to come by, and with Horford’s passing acumen out of the low post, it’s something Udoka should go back to more often.
The Boston Celtics owe a big piece of their turnaround to Horford’s turnaround of his own. With his offensive game expanding, teams are taking notice, and that opens more things up for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. And as always, Horford is as solid as ever on the defensive end of things. With Horford finally finding his form, it makes Boston ten times more dangerous as they head towards the playoffs.