Boston Celtics

Horford's elite defense vs. Doncic helped power Celtics to Game 1 win

Horford stepped up defensively in a major way for the Celtics.

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If we told you before Game 1 of the 2024 NBA Finals that one Boston Celtics player would dominate defensively when matched up against Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic, the first couple guesses probably would've included Jaylen Brown, Derrick White, Jrue Holiday and Jayson Tatum.

But the player who defended Doncic the best for Boston in its 107-89 victory Thursday night at TD Garden was big man Al Horford.

Horford is an excellent defender, but he doesn't always guard players like Doncic who are smaller and excellent ballhandlers. The Mavericks used pick-and-rolls to get Horford switched on to Doncic, and the results were pretty bad for Dallas.

How bad, exactly?

Doncic shot 1-of-8 (0-of-4 on 3-pointers) and scored just two points when Horford was the primary defender, per the NBA's tracking data.

And it wasn't just Doncic that Horford locked down. The Mavs as a team shot 5-of-19 from the floor against the veteran center.

"Everyone was really locked in on the defensive end," Horford told reporters after the game. "The things that we needed to do, we just wanted to be very solid throughout."

Here are some highlights from Horford's matchup versus Doncic, via NBC Sports Boston's Chris Forsberg:

Doncic still ended up scoring 30 points, but he wasn't very efficient. He shot 12-of-26 (4-of-12 from 3-point range) in 38 minutes. He also tallied just one assist, which was his lowest single-game total of the season.

The Celtics didn't need to double Doncic at all in Game 1, and that prevented the Mavs role players on the perimeter from getting a lot of open looks from beyond the arc. When Doncic is doubled, he often finds the open man. Those opportunities were rarely available Thursday. It's one reason why the Mavs attempted just 27 3-pointers, which is seven fewer than their postseason average.

In addition to his stellar defense on Doncic, Horford also scored 10 points with seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 30 minutes of action. It was an excellent all-around performance from a 38-year-old veteran seeking his first championship.

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