Horford's basketball intuition the key in the clutch


In the closing seconds of the Celtics’ 111-110 thriller in Denver, Al Horford delivered in a way that speaks volumes about him as a player and why his value far too often isn’t easily quantified.

With a few ticks on the shot clock, Horford delivered a head fake, put the ball on the floor for what momentarily looked like a drive to the rim.

The Nuggets defense certainly thought so, which is why they collapsed into the paint to take that shot away or at least make it a contested look at the rim.

Aware of this, at the last second, Horford passed to Jaylen Brown for what turned into the winning three-pointer.

It was Horford once again doing the little things which, as we’ve seen, are a pretty big deal to him and the Celtics, who continue to sit atop the Eastern Conference standings.

“Tremendous play by Al,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “The drive and kick at that moment, a lot of guys shoot that floater or kind of a layup where you have to extend over somebody. That’s not a great percentage shot, especially with guys flying in. But to have the wherewithal to kick it to the corner was the right basketball play.”

And as we’ve seen for most of his career, making the right play has been a constant with Horford.

“That was a wide-open three in the corner, brought to you by Al Horford,” Kyrie Irving told NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper afterward.

Teammates have marveled at Horford’s basketball intuition all season.

“Al, he’s such a smart player,” Daniel Theis told NBC Sports Boston earlier this season. “He always seems to be in the right place at the right time, making the right decision. He’s a really, really good player.”

Here are five other takeaways from the victory that closed out the four-game Western trip at 2-2:

After missing a Jan. 18 game against Philadelphia due to a sore left shoulder, Irving has been in a nice shooting grove. In the five games he has played in since the Sixers meeting, Irving has averaged 31.4 points, 5.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 50 percent (18-for-36) from 3-point range and 59.2 percent (58-for-98) from the field.

The Celtics players and coaching staff haven’t been the same since returning to the states after playing in London against the Sixers on Jan. 11. The Celtics have seen their stats at both ends of the floor drop, particularly when it comes to defense and rebounding. But the real loss comes in the form of just that; losses. Since returning from the London, Boston has lost five of its seven games in what’s shaping up to be a tough month.

The 3-point shot has been a weapon of choice for the Celtics all season. But never have we witnessed so many Celtics deliver one big shot after another. By the end of the night, the Celtics had set a new franchise record as seven different players made at least a pair of 3-pointers.

With no Marcus Smart (hand laceration) and no Shane Larkin (sore right knee) on Monday, much of the playmaking duties off the bench were at the doorstep of Terry Rozier. And to his credit, he made himself quite at home with eight points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Celtics.

One of the nasty little habits Boston sometimes gets itself into is committing too many turnovers that are unforced. The Celtics weren’t about to play that game on Monday, committing 11 turnovers which resulted in 15 points for the Nuggets.



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