Horford, Williams Turning into Lethal Shot-Blocking Combo

Opposing teams of the Boston Celtics experienced tremendous difficulty scoring around the rim last season whenever Robert Williams was in the game.

Such a challenge is proving to be twice as arduous this season with Al Horford returning to Williams’ side.

By pairing two elite rim protectors, the Boston Celtics have formed a two-headed, shot-blocking monster.

Through six games, Horford is averaging a league-leading 3.8 blocks per game, while Williams is right behind him in second place with 3.2 BPG. No other player in the NBA is averaging more than 3.0. BPG. And the combined average of 7.0 BPG between the two of them exceeds the entire team averages of 27 franchises, with Minnesota (7.4 BPG) and Philadelphia (7.0 BPG) being the only exceptions.

One may have assumed that placing Horford and Williams alongside each other would have caused their individual block numbers to decline, but obviously, quite the opposite has occurred thus far.

How has that been the case?

“I just think [the blocks] are just a result of our awareness and the way that we're playing, making sure that we're having each other's backs out there,” Horford answered at shootaround Monday morning prior to a matchup against the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden. “Whether it's coming up the help side or if it's a 1-on-1 matchup, we’re taking the challenge defending.”

Although the Celtics haven’t been satisfied with their overall defensive effort, they are at least challenging shots at an impressive rate. Boston is contesting 57.8 shots per game (third-most in the NBA) and is holding opponents to a 59.6 percent clip on field goals defended at the rim, which is the fourth-best mark in the league.

“We're just being very active contesting, we’re trying to help off the help side, and just trying to be active on defense,” said Horford. “Rob’s doing a really good job of that, and that's something that coach has been preaching to us about, just being active defensively.”

The fact that Horford has been so active defensively is astonishing, considering how he missed the second half of the preseason and Opening Night of the regular season after testing positive for COVID-19. However, the 35-year-old veteran hasn’t felt much of an impact physically aside from the reconditioning aspect.

“I'm doing okay,” Horford insisted. And his numbers – 13.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.3 steals per game – back that up. “It's just obviously, you spent so many months, so much time getting ready for the season, and then you just can't do anything for a number of days. Definitely, it's gonna affect different things, but I'm working, I'm doing okay, I'm working through it.”

The Celtics need him to work through it because he’s been one of the few consistent bright spots for their 20th-ranked defense so far.

“Teams are trying to come at him every night and he’s taken that challenge on every single night,” said Jaylen Brown. “So I commend him. Al’s been doing a fantastic job. Not only that, being a leader out there, just keeping us balanced. He's had some big-time plays. so we got to continue to follow his lead on the defensive end and really, really guard.”

Horford said the team showed progress in that aspect Saturday night in Washington, despite suffering a 115-112 loss in double overtime. The only aspect that kept them from winning that game was the misfortune that occurred on the other end of the court, where they shot just 2-for-26 from 3-point range.

“I was more pleased by the effort of our group,” Horford said looking back on the outcome. “I felt like defensively, we really gave ourselves a chance to win that game. So, after that loss, I think we can build off of that.”

In the meantime, both Horford and Williams hope to keep building on their extraordinary defensive start. At the moment, they are on track to become the only players in Celtics history to average more than three blocks per game. In fact, only two players in franchise history – Kevin McHale and Robert Parish – have averaged more than two blocks per game over a full season. Also, no Celtic has ever led the league in blocks since the NBA began tracking them in 1973-74.

Yes, it’s early, and the odds that both of their shot-blocking numbers will hold up are slim. But there is no question that Horford and Williams are an elite shot-blocking combo, one which should be feared by every team in the league.


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