One of the underrated keys to the Celtics’ 2021-22 season, which ended with a loss to the Warriors in the NBA Finals, was the contribution of veteran forward Al Horford who, at age 36, gave Boston 29.1 minutes per game over 69 games, scoring 10.2 points with 7.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists. The Celtics were a significantly better team defensively with Horford on the floor (106.4 points per 100 possessions allowed) than with him off (108.7).
Horford played 2,005 minutes last season, fourth among players who were 35 years or older. Only Chris Paul, LeBron James and Kyle Lowry played more.
Don’t expect to see that big of a load put on Horford in the coming season, though. In addition to his regular-season playing time, Horford played 277 minutes in the postseason, the most among the 35-plus crowd. Expect the Celtics to pay special attention to how much they’re asking of Horford, especially when it comes to back-to-back games.
In fact, Heavy Sports NBA insider Steve Bulpett said the Celtics could make a bold move on Horford when it comes to back-to-backs.
Horford Sat Out in 7 Back-to-Backs Last Year
Last season, the Celtics led the league in back-to-back games, one of four teams (with Cleveland, Orlando and Charlotte) to play 15 back-to-backs. The Celtics did show some restraint with Horford in those games, sitting him in the second half of seven of the team’s back-to-backs.
Horford did not show much fatigue in the eight times he played both nights of a back-to-back. In the second games of those situations, he averaged 10.4 points and 53.3% shooting.
Still, Bulpett said it is unlikely we’ll see Horford much in back-to-backs this year.
“If watching Al Horford play basketball is on your bucket list, I’d be reticent to purchase a ticket for a Celtics game on the second night of a back-to-back,” Bulpett said in a video interview. “You’re not going to see Al in back-to-backs, I’d bet quite a bit on that. I also believe they will limit him when they can. They’re certainly better able to limit minutes in the backcourt, but that’s a situation where they will be looking to find minutes for guys.”
Ime Udoka’s Rotations Will Be ‘Smarter’
Last year’s trip to the NBA Finals should be beneficial not only for the players in terms of experience but also for coach Ime Udoka, who now stands to improve as a coach after such a successful debut season. Part of that will be taking a long-term view of the season, knowing Boston could be playing deep into June, which should allow the coach to be more judicious with playing time.
Early in the year, when the Celtics were struggling to get in synch on both ends of the floor, Udoka tended to lean too heavily on the veterans he trusted, rather than playing a wide rotation to keep players fresh and healthy in the postseason. That should change.
“I think it will be a smarter rotation going forward,” Bulpett said. “Players get better from year-to-year, I think you’re going to see Ime Udoka get better in his second year at the reins, understanding how he wants to use his rotation.”