Celtics Notes: Horford, Tillman, Mazzulla

Celtics center Al Horford has served as a key component to helping Boston potentially achieve its championship aspirations, opines John Hollinger of The Athletic.

Boston currently leads the Mavericks 3-0 in its NBA Finals series. Since being reacquired by the Celtics in 2021 via trade, Horford has helped guide the club to a pair of Finals appearances across the last three seasons.

This season, the 38-year-old has carved out a definitive role as Boston’s sixth man, backing up starting center Kristaps Porzingis and All-NBA starting power forward Jayson Tatum.

Horford has started 13 of Boston’s 17 playoff games, while Porzingis has alternately been sidelined due to injury or has been working his way back from injury.

A former five-time All-Star and All-NBA Third Teamer, the 6’9″ big man is averaging 9.5 points on .473/.352/.750 shooting splits, plus 7.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.9 blocks and 0.7 steals per night.

Horford’s abilities to effectively defend at a high level and to stretch the floor have helped him become a uniquely effective role player for this five-out club’s emphasis on long-range sniping and switchable defense, Hollinger notes.

There’s more out of Boston:

  • Celtics reserve big man Xavier Tillman has been grappling with the unexpected death of his father, Roosevelt, during these playoffs, writes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Roosevelt passed away at his Grand Rapids, Michigan home on May 19, aged 58. “It was very, very hard, especially because I love basketball and everything that it’s allowed me to do,” Tillman said of his father’s death. “But at the same time, my heart was hurting every day.”
  • Young second-year Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla has totally reconfigured his league-wide reputation thanks to his team’s dominant 15-2 playoff run so far, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Post. Last season, after being thrust into the head coaching role just before training camp, Mazzulla led the team back to the Eastern Conference Finals, where it eventually fell in seven games to the Heat. “Just being in the interim role was tough [for Mazzulla],” All-Star wing Jaylen Brown reflected. “Even though we weren’t making any excuses, but him inheriting that position, it was a little bit more of uncertainty about what we were doing going forward. It wasn’t his [coaching] staff.”
  • As The Ringer’s Seerat Sohi observes, Mazzulla’s at-times unorthodox approach to his job has often befuddled his detractors, but it seems, in his second season, as if he’s proving his doubters wrong one by one. “If you’ve ever been in a fight with someone and you think you’re about to beat them, you usually get sucker punched,” Mazzulla said. “The closer you are to thinking you’re going to beat them up, the closer you are to losing.”
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