After 12 games played this season, one thing can be said with utmost certainty: the Boston Celtics have one of the most deadly, versatile, and downright fun offenses in the league right now. After a big 131-112 win over the Denver Nuggets, the Celtics have strung together five straight wins, the longest current win streak in the NBA. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led the way with a combined 59 points, but it was Al Horford who left his stamp on this game.
The Celtics veteran dropped 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including a sizzling 6-of-8 from beyond the arc along with seven rebounds, two assists and a steal. Horford tied a career-high in made three pointers in a game, and Boston exploited two-time MVP Nikola Jokic on the defensive end with Al’s shooting from deep.
“More than anything, it was just the way they (Nuggets) were playing,” said Horford on what led to his big night from deep. “That they were pressuring Jayson, some of our other guys quite a bit, and I got some open looks. So, the guys did a good job finding me and and they were just good looks I had to take them.” With eight attempts on the night, Horford was being found early and often on the perimeter, and to his credit, he punished the Nuggets for not coming to meet him.
On the season, Horford is taking a massive chunk of his shots from three point range, a very noticeable change compared to years past in terms of volume. Through the nine games he’s played in, Horford is shooting 42.1% from three point range, with a shot frequency of 58.5%. This is by far the most frequent Al has been in his career from deep, and he’s doing a great job of converting on them.
“It’s been a big adjustment, and this summer that’s something that we looked at,” said Horford of his increased focus on taking threes, “I understood that I needed to work on it even more be more comfortable, and we really worked at it this summer. And mentally, I’m getting in that mindset of understanding that I’m shooting more threes and that’s just the way it is. The game continues to change and for me, it’s just trying to find find a way that I can change too.”
On top of Horford working on his three ball, the Celtics have made a point of ramping up both their ball movement as well as their pace and spacing. “We’re just kind of playing,” said Horford, “It’s a lot of fun right now just on the offensive end because it’s a lot of ball movement. Where guys are really conscious of understanding what coach wants from us and what he expects, and he wants good spacing and we’re doing a good job of getting to those positions. It’s fun to see when it comes together like that.”
Opponents and opposing coaches are taking notice of the Celtics offense, including Nuggets Head Coach Mike Malone, who praised Boston’s shooting and passing. Malone’s comments were raised to Horford, and when asked about what he believes is the reason for their hot offensive start, Horford was quick to give credit to others.
“I just think it’s an understanding of Jayson, Jaylen and Marcus,” said Horford, “It starts with those three guys, and it’s understanding what we’re trying to accomplish offensively...we want to put pressure on the rim and we want to finish at the basket. But at the same time, we have to have good spacing around them in case that doesn’t happen, we play inside out, we get those threes, and it’s just the way our lineups are. We’ve got five shooters out there, so we’re really spreading it out and everybody that gets it out there is a threat to shoot the ball.”
While Joe Mazzulla has been in Boston for a few years going from a former Brad Stevens assistant coach all the way to an interim head coach, this is the first time Horford has been coached by him. Despite this, Horford as very vocal in praising Mazzulla’s ability to get this team to buy in and compete at a high level.
“I think coach has done a good job getting us organized on the offensive end,” said Horford, “Defensively, I felt like we always...we would lock in a little more, but on the offensive end, I feel like he’s doing a really great job of getting us where we need to be. And then, well, he’s sending the message, Marcus is getting us organized in the places that we need and we’re able to just run cleaner offense. When we get to those positions, Jayson and Jaylen, they continue to make the right reads at the right place, and I think that’s been the biggest improvement, to your question.”
Joe Mazzulla’s impact on the team’s offense has been staggering, but most impressively is how he has galvanized this group following the abrupt departure of Ime Udoka. It would have been a lot easier for things to fall apart. But in Ime’s absence, Mazzulla has unlocked a new gear to this roster, and has quickly earned the trust and respect of the team’s most seasoned veteran.