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C's Focus on Feeding Horford

PHILADELPHIA – Al Horford dominated the third quarter in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, he never scored again, and the Celtics led a 13-point lead slip away in a sloppy fourth quarter. The Celtics fell to a scrappy Sixers team, 105-99, and wasted a 27-point, eight-rebound effort from their offseason acquisition.

Horford had 12 points at the half, and he went 11-for-16 from the field overall, scoring 15 of the Celtics’ first 20 points in the third quarter. While the Celtics generally work their offense from the inside out, looking to kick to perimeter scorers for 3-pointers, on Sunday Horford was operating in the post, backing down opponents, and making plays for himself in the paint.

“Guys are really looking for me, and I’m just trying to make plays,” Horford said of the renewed emphasis on getting him the ball in scoring positions. “The way that they played me tonight, they just forced me to go and score, as opposed to what I do so much, which is just get it in the seams and pass it out to the guys for threes. “They took that away, and that’s what really freed me up tonight.”

Brad Stevens has been talking about getting the team to “play through” Horford in recent days, and it seems like the message has gotten through to his team. Horford’s had 16 field goal attempts in each game on Friday and Sunday, marking the most shots he’s taken in a game since he took 18 shots on January 7 against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Horford scored just 14 on Friday despite taking the same amount of shots, but his 27 points against the Sixers were the most he’s scored in Celtics green.

“He was great. Al played great today, there’s no question about it,” Stevens said. “He was active, he was aggressive. He was really engaged.”

Of course, with Isaiah Thomas sitting out his second consecutive game with a right knee bone bruise, the Celtics had to look elsewhere for scoring. To that end, everyone who appeared in the game got in the scoring column. For a while, though, it looked like Horford was going to be scoring every time down the floor.

“It felt like the match-up he got was in our favor, so we wanted to feed him and play off of him as much as possible,” Jae Crowder said after the game. “The majority of the game we did a good job of doing that. We got away from it a little bit late, and made it tough on ourselves.”

Avery Bradley was the first Celtic to speak with the media after the game, and he told reporters that he felt like too many times, the Celtics were playing “one-on-one basketball” instead of making the right plays for the team. And that seemed to be the case as the game got sloppy in the fourth quarter, and the ball stopped moving around the way it normally does.

Asked about Horford’s performance, Bradley made it clear that the Celtics should have kept going to their big man.

“Al didn’t only have it going on the offensive end, but he was finding guys; he was making plays for our team,” Bradley said. “We should have got him the ball even more down the stretch.”

The Celtics are right back on the court Monday as they host the 42-27 Washington Wizards, who sit a game-and-a-half behind them in the Eastern Conference. Especially considering that Thomas’ status is unknown at this point, Horford will likely be a focus for the offensive again tomorrow.

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