Speaking to the media after a rare practice session, Al Horford discussed a range of topics pertaining to the team's current situation. The Celtics have won 5 of their last 7 games, but still find themselves 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to a difficult start to the season.
Now, with a healthy roster and the team starting to gain some momentum, the veteran big man is looking forward and trying to help his team figure out how to start making up lost ground.
“We’re focused on this season and the things we need to do, and what we can be as this group, this team, right now. In no way are we looking ahead or anything like that. The biggest thing is, how good can we be with the group that we have? And try to figure it out. We have the players, we have it here, and it’s hard, but that’s the challenge of it.”
When it comes to the Celtics, we’ve become used to their inability to play a consistent 48 minutes of basketball. First, we had the slow starts, then the third quarter collapses, and this year, it’s the team imploding down the stretch, and it seems like Horford is aware of the team's shortcomings.
“We need to continue to find ways to win. In a lot of these games, we’re fighting but things don’t go our way. It’s just continuing to learn how to win and learn how to pull these games out. We have an opportunity now to turn things around, we’re not so far off. We’re still in striking distance,” Horford said, “I think it’s for us to understand what it takes to win. Especially when it gets down to the fourth quarter, you need to be more locked in, need to execute better, things like that. Obviously, we’re still working through all those things, but everything gets bigger down the stretch, especially in the fourth.”
Of course, with the team lacking a true playmaker, Boston has had to lean on “offensive creation by committee,” which has placed an increased workload on multiple members of the roster. Marcus Smart is tasked with leading the charge as the team's primary point guard, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are fast becoming Swiss Army knife players, and Robert Williams, along with Horford, are often used as “point centers.”
Versatility is usually key to success, but when a team is force-feeding those extra responsibilities onto their players, it usually means the roster is imbalanced, and will likely lead to a turbulent season. At least until everybody figures their new roles out, particularly Boston’s two young stars, Brown and Tatum.
“They’re really trying to work together, trying to put us in position to help us win. Big responsibility on their shoulders, they know that. You can tell with how they play. Obviously, they’re looking to score, create for others, make the game easy. And at the same time, we expect them to defend, be locked in. We were talking about the Chicago game. Jayson had some big plays defensively, clamped down on DeMar DeRozan got a stop when we needed it, got a block. Those are both examples of finding ways to impact winning, and they’re doing a good job of it. It’s not easy.”
However, Horford appears to have faith in his teammates and coaching staff, noting that the Eastern Conference is still wide open. After all, the Celtics weren’t the only team decimated by health and safety protocols, nor were they alone in how their players struggled to reintegrate themselves once they returned to full basketball activity.
Hopefully, now that Udoka has had time to work out with his team and remind them of the style of basketball he wants them to play, the Celtics can feed off their current momentum and begin putting some distance between themselves and a .500 record.
With a favorable schedule between now and the end of January, there couldn’t be a better time to start hitting your stride.