The Playoff battle between the Celtics’ Al Horford & Hawks’ Trae Younger


In video games three and 4 of the Boston Celtics‘ first-round playoff sequence towards the Atlanta Hawks, there was an underlying battle happening. For all of the speak of Boston concentrating on Trae Younger on the defensive finish, it could seem that he’s additionally concentrating on somebody when he’s on offense: Al Horford.

Over the past two video games, the Hawks have regarded to get Horford switched onto younger on the perimeter, the place the shifty guard can make the most of the veteran’s 36-year-old legs, placing him within the tough scenario of making an attempt to remain in entrance of his man.

Take this possession from sport three, for instance. Horford is guarding Jalen Johnson in man protection, whereas Marcus Good is choosing up Younger. A fast step-up display compelled Good and Horford to change, thus putting Boston’s veteran huge man onto Younger, who then activates the jets and leaves Horford in his mud.

You may’t blame Horford, although. Younger has exceptionally good physique management and might change tempo within the blink of a watch — he could be a troublesome cowl for anyone, not to mention a giant man who’s within the latter years of his profession. Nonetheless, Joe Mazzulla regarded to counter Younger’s searching journey by pulling Horford away from the motion on the perimeter and implementing a drop protection as an alternative.

The draw back with drop protection is that it usually creates taking pictures pockets across the free-throw line, pockets which Younger, a guard who has shot 292/646 from mid-range this season, is blissful to take advantage of.

In sport 4, we noticed an identical story between Younger and Horford, as Mazzulla toyed with methods to restrict the affect of concentrating on a flexible defensive heart by forcing him into a number of adjustments of course in fast succession.

Beneath, we’ve one other instance of trying to swap Horford onto Younger, this time from sport 4, though Jayson Tatum’s weakside rotation pressures the shot launch and forces a tough miss.

For probably the most half, no matter Mazzulla did have an impact, as on Sunday, Younger solely obtained two shot makes an attempt when straight guarded by Horford, changing considered one of them. But, the house that was generated from taking part in such a deep drop was actually open for enterprise because the Hawks regarded to take benefit.

Take this possession, for instance, because the Hawks go searching a Horford/Younger mismatch early within the first quarter. With Horford in a deep drop, Marcus Good fights over the Clint Capela display and basically funnels Younger towards Horford, who’s ready across the rim. Derrick White is guarding Dejounte Murray on the robust aspect wing, thus limiting Younger’s capability to flee dribble away from Good, who’s denying the center of the courtroom.

The result’s a Younger bailout, adopted by a kick out to Murray. Okay, the possession nonetheless leads to three factors, however it didn’t come courtesy of attacking Horford and given how Quin Snyder went to that matchup so early, efficiently limiting its affect was an encouraging consequence.

All through the common season, we’ve seen the Celtics experiment with taking part in a ‘swap 1-through-4 with the 5 in drop,’ with encouraging outcomes. So, to see Mazzulla lean into this defensive system when Horford’s presence on the perimeter is a proverbial welcome mat to screening actions makes complete sense. But, when each Robert Williams and Horford had been on the ground, and neither was stepping onto the perimeter, issues obtained a bit of hazy.

With two bigs dedicated to the paint, there’s little resistance on the perimeter, permitting Younger to vary gears and get an uncontested runner off, ending in a simple two factors. But, if reminiscence serves, the Horford/Williams double-big line-up is finest served when Williams can rotate over the weakside to contest pictures reasonably than constructing a wall towards a slight guard who doesn’t possess the power or brute pressure to bully his means inside.

After all, we did see another defensive variations when Younger went on the lookout for Horford, like how Jaylen Brown rotated over to choose him up early within the fourth quarter, throwing Atlanta’s offensive plans out of sync, though Younger did handle to get to the road.

Over the previous two video games, the subplot of the Younger and Horford cat-and-mouse sport has been an fascinating one to comply with. Regardless of Horford’s versatility on protection, you possibly can’t escape the truth that age will not be on his aspect, and typically, when confronted with an elite guard on the perimeter, he’s going to surrender some floor as he alters course and contests within the rearview.

But, when positioned in a dependable scheme and guarded by the Celtics’ elite perimeter and wing defenders, Horford continues to be one of many extra dependable bigs within the convention, if not the league. The problem is to repeatedly evolve the way you defend him on the perimeter whereas guaranteeing he could be a priceless drop defender — and that’s the place the changes are available in.

As we head into sport 5 of the sequence, in a possible close-out sport for the Celtics, the place Dejounte Murray can be lacking attributable to suspension, it is going to be enjoyable to see how incessantly Atlanta look to focus on Horford, particularly now the offense will certainly run by means of Younger. What’s extra fascinating, although, is that Snyder pinpointed Horford because the goal of their mismatch searching, contemplating he is been a pillar of every little thing good that’s been taking place for the Celtics over the previous two years.

Nonetheless, the playoffs are all about changes, so let’s see what Snyder and Mazzulla have up their sleeves on Tuesday night.



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