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Al Horford is anything but “Average” and 9 other takeaways from Celtics/Heat

Horford and Kyrie Irving teamed up to lead Boston to their fourth straight win

NBA: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

1. Boston got out to a terrific start. They built as large as a 12-point lead in the first quarter and scored 33 points. Part of what helped get the Celtics there was grabbing four offensive rebounds in the opening period, with Al Horford snagging three himself. Considering Boston only missed 10 total shots in the quarter, rebounding 40 percent of their misses is pretty good work.

2. The good shooting and offensive rebounding helped offset a new and troubling trend: turnovers. For the season, the Celtics are sixth in the NBA with just 13 turnovers per game. But over the past few weeks, Boston has fallen from as high as second in the league, as they’ve gotten increasingly sloppy with the ball.

Brad Stevens loves when his team is unselfish and the ball is popping, but sometimes guys try and do too much. Occasionally they take themselves out of good shots to try and find great ones for a teammate. It’s the old theory that “perfection is the enemy of good”. In the first quarter against Miami, Boston gave the ball up six times, and then five more times in the second quarter. Being careless with the ball was a big part of what allowed Miami to climb back into the game.

3. It’s not a game Gordon Hayward is going to put on his highlight reel. His 19 minutes were pretty unremarkable. But this play stood out as an example of Hayward’s ability to control pace and then use great body control to get himself a layup. He’s a better athlete than most think, but Hayward really shines with his ability to speed up, slow down, and to stop on a dime to get himself open.

4. Like Hayward, it wasn’t a memorable night for Jaylen Brown on offense. He again competed on defense and brought great energy, but the shot wasn’t dropping. Still, it was good to see Brad Stevens design this ATO to get Brown the ball and space and to use his athleticism. The whole right side of the floor is cleared out and when an athlete like Brown catches even a good defender like Justise Winslow leaning, he’s going to get something good at the rim:

5. The second quarter for the Celtics was just bad. They’ve turned the corner in many respects, but putting together four good quarters is still something the team is searching for. In the second period against Miami, Boston shot just 6-of-22 and turned it over five times. That’s 21 empty possessions out of 29 in the period. Against a good team, those are the kind of things the Celtics struggle to come back from.

6. Most of the blame for the bad play last night lies at the hands of the reserves. The backups shot a combined 8-of-26 and gave the ball away seven times. In-game many reacted with alarm, commenting “When is Stevens going back to the starters?”, as the lead in the fourth quarter threatened to slip away.

That criticism is fair, but it’s also fair to point out that the bench had earned a little leeway. In the previous three games, the Boston reserves had helped turn games around and were a big part of the victories. It’s also important to remember that, while the Celtics are in catch-up mode in the standings, they’re still playing the long game. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

7. And when you have guys like Horford and Kyrie Irving to pull you out of your troubles, you can give your bench a little more rope. The two teamed up for one of the night’s prettiest plays, as Horford showed his full versatility. He blocks a shot on one end, corrals the ball and leads the break, finishing with the on-time pass to the streaking Irving for the reverse layup. Not many teams can trust their center to rip and run and find their point guard for layups on the break like this:

8. Overall, Horford was dominant for Boston. He finished as a game-high +30 for the night, which was a sign of how much he controlled the game for the Celtics. He scored 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds (including six on the offensive glass!), handed out four assists and blocked three shots. Just a great night for tired, old, “Average Al”.

9. Irving did plenty of good stuff too. He finished with 26 points, 10 assists and eight steals. It was the third time in four games that Irving has had at least 20 points and 10 assists. He racked up some gorgeous assists, but this one had a little extra mustard on the hotdog, as he found Marcus Smart for the three-pointer:

10. Jayson Tatum had another strong offensive game, as he scored 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting. His best shot of the night is one that might have gone unnoticed by most, because there wasn’t anything noteworthy about it. Unless you consider where Tatum has come from to this point. He’s so good from behind the arc that defenders regularly fly out at him. Just last game, against Atlanta, DeWayne Dedmon ran Tatum off of a three-pointer. Tatum faked the shot, took a dribble and promptly missed a long-two.

On this play, Tyler Johnson attempts to do something similar. Instead of dribbling in for the long-two, Tatum takes his time, sidesteps and buries the triple. Tatum has been so good, it’s easy to forget he’s only 20 and still figuring it out. Those two shots are a sign of the room for growth, but more importantly, the willingness to grow.


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