Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens dubbed Al Horford "outstanding" in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, this after Horford got questioned about his quiet stat line in a potential closeout game after Friday's 109-99 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"[Horford] was really productive in the first quarter. He was outstanding," Stevens said on a conference call Saturday. "Every time he touched the ball in the post, it felt like we scored.
"Al does not care if he's the one that's scoring, he cares that our team scores."
Horford finished with 6 points on 2-of-8 shooting with 9 rebounds and 4 assists over 37 minutes in Game 6. But he endured a scoreless first half, which put a spotlight on him after the Cavaliers separated a bit during the second quarter.
"I think it's easy to look at a stat sheet, but I think, the way that [the Cavaliers] were playing, he made all the right plays, especially early in the game," said Stevens.
The typically reserved Horford bristled a bit when a reporter asked him about his quiet start.
"If you were watching the game, I was getting doubled as soon as I caught the ball," Horford said postgame. "Every time. I didn't really have one-on-one position. So they did a good job of really doubling me and making it hard."
Horford did admit that he'd have to watch the tape to see why his post touches diminished as the game went on. The Celtics had success working inside-out through Horford early but seemed to settle a bit while trying to rally back.
"We can go to him more but, when they double, we just have to make the right play out of it, and Al is one of our best at doing that," Stevens said.
The presence of Tristan Thompson has made it more difficult for Horford to score in this series, and Boston will need its younger players to continue to step up when the Cavaliers send multiple bodies at him.
When the Celtics topped the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 in the first round, Horford was the night's hero, putting up a postseason-high 26 points on 13-of-17 shooting as Boston rolled to a double-digit triumph.
Stevens said all of Boston's players should be excited for another Game 7, especially with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake.
"I've had a chance now to be in a couple here in Boston, and I think it's really important, again, that we focus on the task at hand and try to play our best, try to play with great togetherness, great competitiveness, and enjoy that," said Stevens. "I think that's one of the things that I don't think has been lost on this group throughout its entire journey, before the playoffs and now, is we have fun.
"Like we're going to go out and compete, but we're going to enjoy playing the game that we love. That makes it even more fun to be around these guys."