By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics were an incredibly efficient bunch on Monday night, led by their incredibly efficient big man.
The spotlight was mostly on Kyrie Irving, who went toe-to-toe with the Greek Freak and led the way with 32 points in 34 minutes. Rookie Jayson Tatum owned the hardwood in the first half, hit four of his five shots (all threes) en route to a 17-point night. The Celtics as a whole shot an incredible 55 percent from the floor in their 111-100 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the fifth straight game they’ve hit more shots than they’ve missed.
But then there’s Al Horford, who was perhaps the most efficient Celtic of all on the evening. He quietly flirted with a triple double, finishing the win with 20 points along with a team-high nine rebounds and eight assists. Those 20 points came off 80 percent shooting, as Al hit eight of his 10 attempts, including one of two from downtown. He’s the first Celtics player to put up that kind of stat line since some guy named Larry Bird did it back in 1984, two years before Horford was born.
The Celtics outscored Milwaukee by 21 points when Horford was on the floor, which is really nothing to scoff at given who he was tasked with containing for much of the contest. None of this is new from Everyday Al, a veteran who defines efficiency on a nightly basis.
“All year, he’s been really good. I mean, when you look at his [stat line] – 20 points on 10 shots; eight assists and nine rebounds. Pretty good night,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Horford. “And, oh by the way, you have to try to keep Giannis in front of you, which is really, really tough to do. Make him earn as much as you can. I thought that we were clearly better offensively when he was in because of the way that they had to account for him on both rolls and pops. But he’s playing at a good level.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo still went off for a game-high 40 points, but the Celtics held a comfortable lead for much of the contest after jumping on top early. The Bucks were able to whittle what was a 20-point lead down to just eight in the fourth quarter, but back-to-back Horford alley oops from Marcus Smart got the C’s lead back up to double digits and Boston cruised to the relatively easy victory.
Dunks aren’t really a common practice for Horford, but he and Smart have now combined on six alley oops over the last three games. Horford joked that the Celtics won’t be taking over the “lob city” moniker anytime soon, but was quick to dish out some praise for Smart’s smooth and seemingly effortless passing.
“Smart is comfortable making those plays. He really does a good job of reading the defense whether it’s [finding] us or to swing it across to get the three,” said the Boston big man. “So he does a really good job; he does as good a job as I’ve seen. He just recognizes everything and when he gets in the pick-and-roll, he makes the right play.”
As for his own efficient efforts this season, averaging averaging 14.2 points on 56 percent shooting, Horford said he’s simply putting in the work and finding a rhythm with this new-look Celtics bunch.
“I’m always coming in with the same focus, trying to play the right way, do the right things,” he said. “I feel like we are starting to find a rhythm as a group. And I’m starting to find my rhythm too.”