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Al Horford Needs to Walk the Talk

Celtics Al Horford

Here’s a free idea for Boston Celtics fans; instead of watching the team play Game 1 of any playoff series, just throw on a comfort movie. It will make you feel better and will definitely be more enjoyable.


The Celtics opened up another series by going down 0-1 with their loss on Wednesday night. That makes their record 5-6 in the series-opening game, dating back to the start of the “bubble” Playoffs in 2020. For a team with recent, high-level success, it’s more likely than not that the Celtics will start a series down 0-1. For fans and followers alike, it is maddening that scenario (a lot of the time with home-court advantage) is a common occurrence. 


It’s important to diagnose why let-downs like that have continually occurred to this team. Is it a lack of attention? A casual attitude towards opponents? Play-style issues? Or the outside shooting of Al Horford? The answer might not be what many expect. 


A Game of Three’s


The switch at the beginning of the season from Ime Udoka to Joe Mazzulla as head coach shifted the team’s primary focus from defense to offense. It’s not that defense wasn’t prioritized (the Celtics finished top-five in defensive rating); it’s just that Mazzulla’s philosophy revolves around offensive efficiency. 


Mazzulla has proclaimed his love for threes in the past. In his mind, the trade-off is simple; threes are worth more than twos. Therefore an open three is better than an open two. After losses in the playoffs to Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers, Mazzulla was quick to point out that the Celtics didn’t shoot enough. Many will quibble with Mazzulla’s adamance towards jacking up threes. Some have ascribed that to being a young and inexperienced coach who came up threw the analytics age. But, for the most part, the Celtics best game plan is when they don’t shy away from shooting.


The Celtics were ranked second in both makes and attempts in the regular season. As the sample size got bigger over the year, the Celtics found a range of three attempts to get to. It breaks down like this according to data from StatHead:


Three Point Attempts Record Breakdown
<=34 attempted 3PT-FG *sub section* 6-4
<=39 attempted 3PT-FG 22-6
=40 attempted 3PT-FG 2-2
>=41 attempted 3PT-FG 33-17
>=46 attempted 3PT-FG *sub section* 18-10


Playoff Trends


A big factor as to why the Celtics have dropped games, especially at home, is their three-point shooting. In all four of the Celtics home playoff losses, they have failed to reach 39 three-point attempts. Opponents have started to gameplan against allowing the three versus them. They funnel the Celtics away from the line, encouraging them to drive the paint and score inside. The Celtics have taken the bait.


As mentioned, the Celtics were near the league’s top leaders in three attempts this year. They still rank high in the playoffs, but their attempts have dropped staggeringly. As a team, they are averaging 38 attempts in the playoffs compared to almost 43 in the regular season. 


The Celtics 29 attempts were their lowest total against the Heat in five games this year. Furthermore, it was their second lowest attempts in their 14 playoff games. 


Is Al Horford Elite at Shooting?


Last series against the 76ers, Horford explained that as an “elite shooter,” there are times when his shot will go up and down. As a reporter laughed off Horfords statement, the sixteen-year veteran glared directly at him and challenged the chuckle. Horfords play in the next game proved the reporter wrong, but it may have led to Horford hitting a slump at the wrong time. 



Horford, in the regular season, was a phenomenal outside shooter. The ageless Dominican Republic native shot a career-high 46% from three (ranked second in the NBA) on around five attempts per game. Since then, Horford has steadily regressed. In 14 playoff games, Horford is shooting 30% on threes. What’s worse is that Horford started off pretty well against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round shooting 36%, but in the games following, he is only 12-for-45 on threes (26%). 


Horfords’ poor shooting has been clouded by his stellar play on the defensive end of the court. Horford battled the reigning NBA MVP in the last series to the point that Joel Embiid was ineffective in challenging “Big Al.” However, Horfords energy output on that end might be leading to his inability to make the outside shot. 


Horford presence on both ends is important, but arguably Horfords tendency to stretch the opposing defense allows the Celtics to do what they do best, have the perimeter surrounded by shooters. 


The Adjustments


Horford will stay in the starting lineup, but what might change is Robert Williams starting alongside him. The double-big lineup was the necessary chest move for the last series against the 76ers. Now against the Miami Heat, the Celtics should look to go smaller with another shooter. 


The move will likely be Derrick White moving back into his starting role at guard. But expect to see more of Grant Williams as the series moves along. Williams has seen his minutes decline and almost evaporate recently, but his profile could ease the responsibility Horford is taking upon himself on both ends. 


The Celtics are missing the outside production that Horford usually brings. Either his percentages have to find their balance level, or another role player will need to step up for them to prevail over the Heat. 



Matt Strout is a contributor to Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. You can catch Matt frequently as a guest on the “Cut The Nets” podcast featured on the Back Sports Page network. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96 

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