The season is on the horizon. It’s time to get back into the swing of things by examining the intricacies of the game and it’s hard to talk about the finer points of the Boston Celtics’ offense without mentioning Al Horford, the center (hah) of basically everything good that happens with this team. Since acquiring Horford, the Celtics have made it to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals, and his positive impact is undeniably obvious both on and off the box score.
After the first two games of the season, the Celtics went on the infamous streak that lasted 16 games, including wins over key Western Conference powers such as the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. In this game against OKC, Boston began its trend of big deficits leading to even bigger comebacks. The Celtics were in the middle of falling behind where we find this gem at the end of the first quarter:
The first thing that stands out to me about this play is Al Horford’s patience. Before finally getting the handoff to work with Terry Rozier, Horford passed up on 3 different pass opportunities that likely would have ended up as fruitless endeavors or options. He could have passed it up to Rozier initially, but he knew (with eyes in the back of his head) that Rozier would have been left facing basically 4 defenders with poor spacing, considering Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris’ defenders were both cheating off them a little to clog up the paint because of good defense by OKC.
When Rozier cut back behind after not receiving the pass, Horford had another opportunity to pass, but he paused, knowing that any momentum would have carried Rozier right into Paul George who was guarding Jaylen Brown, yet another trap that Horford avoided by being patient. Horford has another opportunity for the handoff with Jaylen Brown as he curls around. This wouldn’t have been a bad pass to make in theory because the floor was opened up a bit more with Rozier in the corner, Smart sliding a bit further up and Morris in the corner. However, he waited again because George guarded the handoff excellently.
Instead, with the left side of the floor opened up, Horford transitions into a dribble handoff with Rozier, finally giving them the space they needed to execute the play. To the Thunder’s credit, after all of this action and movement by Boston’s players who were primarily involved in this play, they defended excellently. Even their two help-side defenders were positioned well.
In the end, Horford executes a pitch-and-follow where he passes to Rozier, runs to set the screen immediately after (a great screen at that), and leaves Rozier isolated against a big with a lot of space in the middle of the floor. Rozier is comfortable right in that range, and he demonstrated that with a smooth and composed pull-up jump shot off the dribble. Beauty in motion.
It’s strange that Al Horford continues to be underrated. Yeah, he’s not putting up a double-double every night out, but obviously, the box score isn’t the best way to evaluate his game. With even more weapons around him this upcoming season, Horford’s box score numbers may continue to go down, but his positive impact will only lead to even more wins.