Horford Facilitates Offensive Eruption vs. ORL

BOSTON – Boston's offense has been struggling to find rhythm during the first halves of games this season, so Al Horford took it upon himself to change that trend Friday night when the Celtics hosted the Orlando Magic.

He didn’t change the trend by jacking up shots and scoring a boatload of points. No, that’s not the Al Horford way.

Instead, he got the Celtics' offense back on track by facilitating and making plays for his teammates. And by doing that, Boston was able to enjoy its best first half of the season, while coasting to a 118-103 win.

Horford came out of the gate with a passing mindset, assisting on Boston’s first four baskets. He ended up dishing out seven of his career-high-tying 10 assists during Boston’s 40-point first quarter.

Despite the strong passing numbers, Horford’s play flew somewhat under the radar because he only contributed five points on five shot attempts. But don’t let the lack of scoring fool you; Horford's playmaking made him the unsung hero of this game. And it's made him the unsung hero of the 2017-18 season.

Horford has proven to be a star in every possible way. However, he’s an unusual star. He has the talent to go out and score 30 points and corral 15 rebounds on any given night, yet he rarely puts up massive numbers. That’s because he’s so focused on making plays for his teammates, because that, to him, is the formula to winning.

“We just need everybody to make the right basketball play, and Al’s one of the best in the league at making the right basketball play,” said C's coach Brad Stevens. “Sometimes that means scoring. Sometimes that means making the extra pass. Sometimes it means starting a possession with a hockey assist. Whatever the case may be, we just need everybody on board to make the right basketball play. And you can’t think of a better person to help lead that charge than Al.”

Horford is a coach’s dream player, and Stevens is not the only one to attest to that. Magic coach Frank Vogel dished Horford a heaping serving of praise before tip-off, calling him “the most underrated guy in the league.”

What is it that makes Horford underrated?

“He doesn’t have that superstar persona,” Vogel said, “but in my mind he is (a superstar).

“He plays the 4, he plays the 5, he holds the fort down blocking shots,” the coach added. “They're able to switch on defense and his communication on that end of the floor with his hands and obviously when you have the ability to have five 3-point (shooters) out there with what he can do. If you switch ... he rolls it down to the post and gives space to Kyrie (Irving) and their wings.”

Irving, who scored a game-high 30 points against the Magic, has been commending Horford’s play all season long. Friday night was no exception.

“When Al’s playing like that and we’re actually making shots as well, it makes the game a lot easier for all of us,” Irving said of Horford’s first-quarter impact. “Just the pace as well, him getting the rebound and pushing it out, screening his man and getting us open, he does a great job of that.

Horford understood heading into Friday night’s game that Boston needed to move the ball better in order to overcome its trend of stagnant starts, so he made it a point of emphasis to move the rock from side to side.

“That was one of my focuses,” said Horford, who has had a positive plus/minus rating in all 20 games this season. “To get the ball and move it to the other side. And usually when we do that good things happen for us.”

Sure enough, Horford’s ball movement became contagious. The Celtics assisted on 21 of their 28 baskets during a 73-point first half.

Horford himself only made two of those 28 baskets, and that’s why he flew under the radar. But to Horford’s teammates, his value is sky-high regardless of how many shots he takes.

“A lot of people in the league probably overlook him, but he’s a big factor for this team,” said Terry Rozier, who scored a career-high 23 points against the Magic. “He’s one of the best passers, if not the best passing big man in the league.”

“I’m just glad I’m on the same team as him,” added Irving, who has been the recipient of many of Horford’s passes. “I appreciate him every single day.”

So do the Celtics faithful who pay close attention to Horford’s impact night-in and night-out. They, too, understand how much he’s influenced Boston’s league-best 17-3 start with his extraordinary playmaking skills.