A great quiet night for Al Horford

Recently I tried to watch matches without listening to the broadcast. I like the idea of ​​forming my own opinions on what I see without potential influence from the advertising team. Instead, I put on a playlist, relax with my notebook, and have fun while absorbing the game.

I’m not one to watch the box score either. In fact, I get so consumed by following the action off the ball that I often lose track of the score and end up looking at possessions twice, once for off the ball and once for on the ball. It takes longer to complete a game, but for me, I have look at the game as I like, and that’s what counts, isn’t it?

What I love most about this method is that sometimes I’ll be in the middle of a game and have an opinion that can be totally out of step with what the box score says. Take the example of Al Horford’s performance in Game 2 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Obviously he struggles to throw the ball, but watching his performance in the Boston Celtics’ May 3 win, I got the impression he was having a monster night.

Horford had an impact outside of his points tally. With fingerprints all over the place with hustle plays, strong defense, screening and spacing it was hard for me to compartmentalize this for some it was a poor performance of the great veteran man.

When looking for defensive impact, I often try to monitor how well a team defends passing lanes. After all, if you make it hard to move the boulder, you’re forcing some hotly contested shots. It’s all part of the chess game. That’s why Horford’s defensive play above entered my game notes, not only because he’s a 36-year-old chasing a fast break; there was also the way he read the pass, played the lane and eventually got the deflection.

I love deflections almost as much as I love steals – there’s a similar impact on your opponent’s offense when you deflect a pass and force a reset from the sideline with a shot clock decreased. You beat the attacking pace and gave your team time to regain their defensive structure and composure.

According to NBA Stats, Horford led the game in deflections, putting his hand in the passing lane four times, with only Malcolm Brogdon coming close with three deflections himself. We’ve often said that Horford helped set the tone for the Celtics, and it looks like he did it again against the Sixers, as the Celtics as a unit recorded 16 deflections to the Sixers’ 8.

In addition to playing in the passing lanes, Horford was also playing his part on defense to perfection as the Celtics looked to adjust their pick-up points, ball pressure and rotations on the weak side after their Game 1 mauling in screening actions. However, the above piece, in particular, is the one that I believe accentuated the impact Horford had on the proceedings throughout the contest.

Sure, Horford is disrespecting PJ Tucker a bit by playing so far away from him, but his timing to spin to the weak side, jump and get his hands on James Harden’s float was impeccable. When Horford plays at this level, Boston’s defense is better for it, because his positioning, versatility, and ability to dictate his teammate’s positioning are all aspects of his game that the stat sheet can’t quantify.

Horford’s impact was not limited to the defensive end and did not exist exclusively on the margins.

This season, just 17% of Horford’s offense has revolved around the rim, with an additional 16% in the midrange, meaning 67% of Horford’s shooting selection is perimeter-based. As such, when operating as a filter in pick-and-roll action, Horford will either appear or seek to offer a secondary creation in the short-roll, which we see in the possession below. above.

The Celtics go to an empty pick-and-roll between Jayson Tatum and Horford. As the Sixers send two to Tatum, Horford throws the short-roll before finding Jaylen Brown on a 45-cut. You see, Horford isn’t considered a roll threat, and as such the urgency to spin and score the roll is minimal, especially in a set of empty corners where the defense has to come from the weak side. .

However, Horford is among the best passers in the league, so it only makes sense that Joe Mazzulla would task his team with using those skills when the opportunity arises.

Unfortunately, the most important memory of the game will be that Horford went 1 of 8 from deep and 2 of 10 from the field. Still, it’s important to remember that he’s the same player who finished top 3 in the league for a three-point conversion rate throughout the regular season and that if the Sixers are to continue to challenge him to shoot, he must let it fly.

Late in the series against the Atlanta Hawks, we saw Derrick White stutter through a scoring drop, only to see him wake from his slumber in Game 2 against the Sixers. There’s no reason to believe Horford won’t regain his reach and touch in the coming games, especially considering the space the Sixers are giving him on his attempts.

Horford offered perimeter space.


The clip above is taken from a zoom action where Horford appeared in the corner after placing a wide pin for Jaylen Brown, generating a wide open shot opportunity in the corner.

Plus, even when his shot doesn’t drop, Horford’s presence gives the Celtics the spacing their offensive system depends on, giving Joe Mazzulla a true five-out offensive rotation that can open up open driving lanes and solid opportunities. shooting from anywhere on the field. .

So, as I finished my watch of the Celtics’ victory over the Sixers, I came away with the belief that Horford had been an important member of the rotation, despite the lack of goals. Because Horford, as he always has been, is connective tissue for everything the Celtics do well, and his presence in the rotation has value beyond just scoring or assisting. However, hopefully he can start to bring down his open looks sooner rather than later, so the Celtics can wrap up this series quickly and get back to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they will look to defend their crown in as the best team in the East.

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