14 Games in, Al Horford Assesses Celtics Head Coach’s Growth

Getty Images Al Horford of the Celtics

One of the many faults of the 2020-21 Boston Celtics team was its lack of true identity, despite the ascension of its rising All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Outside of monster scoring performances from one or both, Boston didn’t have a whole lot to fall back on last season.

However, this season, the team is under new management — including first-time head coach Ime Udoka, who’s injecting into the Celtics a newfound approach to defense. Center Al Horford weighed in on how it’s going in a postgame interview on November 15.

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Al Horford on Celtics Defense: ‘That’s Our Identity’

“We’ve been building it and I feel like that’s our identity; a tough defensive team,” Horford said after Monday’s 98-92 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers. “We’re going to make it hard on people and I feel like that has to be our identity because that’s going to put us in a position to win games night in and night out.”

While holding opponents to under 100 points in five of their last seven outings, Boston’s defense allowed only 92.5 points per game throughout that stretch — which is a vast improvement to its season average of 106.1 points a game, per Teamrankings.com.

“I think for all of us, we definitely had to play a different way,” Horford said about the Celtics acclimating to a new defense. “I played more at the five-position and then played more at the top of the key and things like that. I was just very proud of Enes to be able to come in and give us some really good minutes there when we really needed it. Just credit to him, staying ready, doing all the right things, and he got an opportunity tonight. So, I was happy to see that.”

One month into his Celtics tenure, has Horford seen growth in his new head coach?

“Yeah, definitely,” Horford said in the Monday interview. “Reading the game as it’s going and continuing to establish how he wants us to play. Defensively, I feel like, we’ve made strides in that area and we continue to get better. On offense, he keeps harping on how he wants us to be and how he wants us to play. In the second half tonight, playing with more pace and moving the ball a little more; it’s the way that you want to play. It’s a lot of fun when we play that way.”

Ime Udoka: ’39 Points in the First Half Isn’t Bad’

The Celtics, who are currently 10th in defensive efficiency, per Teamrankings.com, continue to improve. So far, Udoka is impressed with what he’s seen on defense but still sees room for growth in other areas.

“Regarding the defense, we’ve kind of made it our staple, relied on that. Like I said just a minute ago, 39 points in the first half isn’t bad,” Udoka said Monday of the Celtics’ first-half defense against the Cavs. “But, we weren’t scoring the ball offensively. So, we continue to do what we did there, and I felt the offense was actually what actually got us over the hump in the second half to score 61. But defense has been a constant for the most part. First 10 games, we really felt like we really got to where we needed to be, still can grow in that area, but offensively it’s kind of the focus now to shift and see how we can score more than 98.”

Next up for the Celtics is the Hawks at Atlanta Wednesday night, November 17.


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