After losing Game 4 to the 76ers, the Boston Celtics talked about adjustments they need to make to close out the Eastern Conference semifinal series Wednesday night at TD Bank Garden.
Coach Brad Stevens and players basically said after Monday’s game that the Sixers were tougher than they were, and the statistics bore this out. The Sixers outrebounded Boston, 53-43, including 16-6 on the offensive glass.
Boston, which leads the best-of-seven series three games to one, also committed almost twice as many turnovers, 15 to 8. The Celtics were called for 28 fouls, a number of which came after they were caught out of position on defense.
In Game 5, bank on the Celtics’ making an offensive adjustment: a more concentrated effort to get Al Horford the ball in a position to score.
Horford, the heart and soul of the Celtics, was not a major offensive factor in Game 4. He scored 10 points but took only six shots, hitting four.
Boston’s offense never force-feeds anybody, including Horford. The 6-foot-10 veteran has had several low-shot totals during this postseason. Monday, Celtics center Aron Baynes attempted more field goals (7) than Horford. That is not a formula for long-term success. Baynes hit 2 of 7 shots, including 2 of 6 three-pointers, but the Sixers would rather give him the open shot than deal with Horford either inside or beyond the arc.
Against the Sixers, Horford has been extremely efficient. He is shooting 24 for 39 from the field (61.5 percent), averaging just 9.75 shots. Monday night, he was asked about the low shot total in Game 4.
“I think that they did a good job really with their pressure and not allowing me to get the ball,” Horford said. “We have to figure out ways so I can get the ball in position I can score.”
Horford is a three-point threat with his flat-footed shot, but this series, he is just 2-for-8 from distance. Where he has been incredibly effective has been in the post. He has deceptive strength to muscle his way in and then has a deft turnaround jumper that is difficult to block.
If there is one knock on Horford, it’s that he might be too unselfish, but one reason his field-goal percentage is so high is that he forces very little.
“A lot of times when I got the ball [in Game 4], it was to move it offensively,” he said. “I am not going to force plays. I always try to play the right way.”
Boston has played 11 games this postseason, and Monday was the fifth time — and the second time in four games against the Sixers — that Horford has attempted fewer than 10 shots. Boston is 2-3 when he takes fewer than 10 shots, and 5-1 in the other games.
Horford also has been strong on defense. Few players have the versatility to guard both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, but he has done a better-than-solid job when defending either of the Sixers’ young stars.
During the regular season, Horford averaged 31.6 minutes and just 10.5 field-goal attempts. He is getting more playing time — averaging 36.6 minutes — in these playoffs but taking fewer shots.
The extended minutes show that the Celtics need the 31-year-old, five-time all-star on the court more. In Game 5, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take a few more shots.
As Horford has proved during these playoffs and especially against the Sixers, good things usually happen for the Celtics when he takes more shots.