BOSTON — When Al Horford worked out over the summer, fresh off the first Finals appearance of his career, he said he knew the assignment. The league continues to evolve every season as 3-pointers have become more valuable. That’s why Horford said he “understood that I needed to work on that even more.”
While the Celtics’ season is only 12 games old and Horford has only played in 10 of those, his 3-point shooting has been huge. Boston features the No. 1 offense in the league, and Horford raining 3-pointers has been a huge part of the equation as he has helped unlock the Celtics. Horford tied a career-high with six made 3-pointers in the Celtics’ 131-112 win over the Nuggets on Friday.
“It’s been a big adjustment,” Horford said. “Mentally, I’m getting in that mindset of understanding that I’m shooting more 3s. That’s just the way it is. The game continues to change, and, for me, it’s trying to find a way that I can change, too.”
The numbers have been stellar for Horford. He’s knocking down 47.8% of his 3-pointers on 4.6 attempts per game, which was boosted by his performance Friday. That’s a huge jump after a 33.8% showing last season, though that was brought down by a slow shooting start to the season. Of course, it’s still early and a small sample size, but Horford’s ability and willingness to shoot is a huge part of the Celtics’ offense.
As Horford pointed out, the Celtics have been so successful because their starting cogs have been more than willing to share the ball. That starts with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Horford said, and their selflessness to find the best shot possible.
“We’re getting to our spaces, we’re giving Jayson, Jaylen room to operate and do things,” Horford said. “I feel like that’s been one of the big differences but also Jayson, Jaylen, Marcus are going a good job of reading the defense and understanding when they have to kick out, not trying to take that extra dribble, things like that.”
There is also the benefit for the Celtics where every guy on the floor can shoot. That’s been the recipe of success for the C’s as they lead the league in percentage of their shots being 3-pointers. Boston’s starting lineup of Horford, Tatum, Brown, Smart and either Grant Williams or Derrick White results in plenty of open shots, which the C’s keep knocking down.
That spacing has been key for the Celtics. And it starts with Horford in some ways as he has evolved into a stretch big who can give his teammates room to drive and work inside the paint.
“Al is like the ultimate professional, the ultimate teammate,” Tatum said. “He’s extremely selfless, always wants what’s best for the team and six years later now, for him to still be the same person, and at 36 years old to still be a starter for us this season and last season just shows how he takes care of his body every single day.”
Horford has embraced his role as a shooter, too. He’s taking more 3-pointers per game (4.6) compared to inside the arc (3.1) despite his position and size advantage. But that’s been by design as the Celtics want all the room as possible for their two best players.
While the Celtics are still Tatum and Brown’s team, their depth has been huge as part of the team’s five-game winning streak. The offense continues to hum, and while Horford is just a part of the machine, he continues to help the Celtics unlock new offensive heights.
“Al is just a professional,” Brown said. “He comes in night in and night out and does his job to the best of his abilities. So that rubs off on everyone. Tonight we knew that the way they cover us that he would have some openings, and we just tried to get him the ball. And he delivered.”