Celtics Center Says a Talk From Al Horford Changed Things

Getty Images Al Horford of the Celtics dribbles downcourt during the Celtics home opener against the Toronto Raptors

An impressive pair of wins built off the strength of the Boston Celtics’ stifling defense of late has head coach Ime Udoka and his team heading in the right direction as they are one win away from improving its regular-season record to .500 on the final night of a three-game road trip.

After a disappointing 2-5 start, the Celtics held the Orlando Magic to under 80 points en route to a 92-79 victory and then did it again on the second half of a back-to-back set at Florida. This time, they trounced the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat — 95-78 — which positions Boston to sweep its longest road trip of the young season, if it’s able to top the Dallas Mavericks, at the American Airlines Arena Saturday night.

Ever since the Celtics surrendered nearly 130 points — a disappointing 128-114 loss to the Chicago Bulls, a game where Boston coughed up a 19-point, second-half lead at TD Garden — the Celtics’ defensive approach has changed from night-to-day. Five days removed from Monday’s loss to the Bulls, the Celtics — who were outside the top-20 in defensive efficiency — are now ranked 12th in the NBA, per Teamrankings.com.

Robert Williams Shares Horford’s Advice After Celtics Loss

It’s a drastic change that Celtics center Robert Williams says is a testament to his teammate, Al Horford — who, Williams says, pulled the team aside for a talk after Monday’s loss to the Bulls.

“Defensively and offensively, and off the court, Al (Horford) has been a great attribute for us, obviously,” Williams said. “He was there my rookie year. He’s an anchor, man. He the O.G. after the game we lost — the home game — he sat us all down. He told us “winning ain’t easy, if everybody could do it, they’d be winning.”

“He told us to embrace it. Embrace the loss, embrace the mess-ups. Just keep pushing.”

Horford, who is off to a terrific start this season, has been instrumental on both ends of the floor for the Celtics. Averaging 13.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, Al is also leading the league in blocks per game (3.0), according to NBA.com.

Robert Williams On Horford: ‘He’s Someone I Look Up To’

His impact, along with a newfound defensive sense of urgency from teammates, were both contributing factors in the back-to-back wins, according to Williams.

“Honestly, I think it’s just everybody has a will to want to win, you know? We want to advance,” Williams added. “We’ve seen what we like in that and we need to step up in it. We as a team need to step up for our defense and offensively.”

Having Horford back is an assist Rob hadn’t anticipated ahead of 2021-22. But it’s also something the 24-year-old center doesn’t take for granted as he continues to mature as a rising NBA center.

“It gives me a whole lot of confidence,” Williams added. “He’s someone I look up to a lot. He’s the O.G. so when I got him critiquing my game, giving making pointers; it means a lot to me. Especially when he sees stuff that I don’t see on the court.”