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Celtics Practice Report: Amir Johnson looking to diversify his game 10.13.16 at 11:11 am ET
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Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson

Expect to see Amir Johnson changing things up this season.

When the Celtics went out and signed Al Horford, the laundry list of things he brought to the table were apparent, but one thing that flew under the radar was how he can help other players. And just over two weeks into camp, he’s already found a way to make fellow starter and big man Amir Johnson better.

“Chemistry is great, you know, it’s just me working around Al, Al working around me and we’re just putting it together,” the 29-year-old Johnson said.

The now-12-year pro noted that one dimension of his game that he is looking to improve is his 3-point shot. Last season, Johnson pulled from deep 43 times, executing on just 10 occasions for a 23.3 percent 3-point percentage, well below his career average of 31.5 percent from deep.

But with the addition of Horford, who can already do it all, it provides Johnson the flexibility to test his shot.

“Guys are starting to step out to that 3-pointer, and guys are definitely guarding outside the 3-point line, so it definitely changes in that aspect there,” Johnson said. “Every big man wants to step out and shoot the 3 and handle the ball, but now guys are working on it.”

With a player like Johnson implementing a 3-point shot more into his game, it can also have a less clear benefit. Regardless of if the shot gets knocked down, if Johnson is able to lure an equally-tall defender out to the perimeter, it gives a natural rim-protector like Horford a chance to isolate and grab the offensive board.

But whether Johnson is shooting or not, Horford’s versatility makes his life a lot easier.

“Al’s definitely one of those versatile bigs, able to pass the ball, step out and shoot the shot. For me it just kind of makes it easier just to work around him because you know he can the pass, you know he can make the shot,” Johnson said.

The synergy between the two is helping Johnson on the other end of the court as well.

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Read More: Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Brad Stevens,
Isaiah Thomas ‘slightly sprains’ left wrist as Celtics beat Hornets in 2nd preseason game 10.06.16 at 9:50 pm ET
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Oct 6, 2016; Greensboro, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) shoots the ball against the Boston Celtics during the first half at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) shoots the ball against Jae Crowder and Al Horford Thursday at Greensboro Coliseum. (Jeremy Brevard-USA Today Sports)

After beating the Hornets Thursday night in a preseason contest, the Celtics will now hold their breath on their star point guard.

Isaiah Thomas injured his left wrist early in the third quarter when he fought his way through a Roy Hibbert screen and came out of the game.

He did not return with what the team termed a “slightly sprained” left wrist. It is the same wrist that he had arthroscopic surgery on in Aug. 2014. Jaylen Brown subbed in for Thomas with 7:07 left in the third quarter.

As for the game, the Celtics (1-1) scored 40 points in the third quarter and rolled to a 107-92 win in a preseason game Thursday night at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Before coming out, Thomas led the Celtics with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting in 20 minutes. Al Horford scored nine of his 13 points in the third quarter. He also grabbed eight rebounds in his 19 minutes of playing time. 

For a full box score, click here

For a second straight game, head coach Brad Stevens started a lineup of Thomas, Avery Bradley, Horford, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson. 

The Celtics raced out to a 22-14 lead in the first quarter, thanks to more sharp-shooting from Avery Bradley. The guard was 3-for-5 from the field, including 1-of-2 from beyond the arc.

But the Celtics bench struggled again, missing their last six shots as the Hornets scored the last nine points to take a 23-22 lead after one. The Celtics, who started off red-hot Tuesday night, made just 8-of-22 from the field in the opening quarter. 

The learning curve continued for Jaylen Brown. He committed a mental error when he lost track of the shot clock at the end of the first quarter and passed the ball on the perimeter as the clock expired. He also failed to finish on a pair of drives to the basket. 

Stevens used the second quarter of the second preseason game to mix and match with the starters, going with a lineup of Bradley, Thomas, Terry Rozier, Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko. The Celtics trailed 51-44 at the half, throwing up 17 threes (making seven). Overall, the Celtics shot just 17-of-44 (38.6 percent) in the opening 24 minutes. Thomas was 3-for-5 from beyond the arc and had 11 in the first half to lead the Celtics. 

Unlike Tuesday, the Celtics starters opened the second half and it paid immediate dividends. The Celtics scored the first nine points of the third quarter for a 53-52 lead. One of the big highlights was two-handed monster slam from Horford on an inbounds pass from Crowder. Horford was fouled and hit the free throw for a three-point play. The Celtics were in complete control the rest of the quarter, outscoring the Hornets, 40-19, in the period.

The Celtics built their lead to as many as 21 in the fourth quarter, cruising to their first win of the preseason. 

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Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets,
For (preseason) openers, Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder shine, Jaylen Brown wows in loss to Sixers 10.04.16 at 9:24 pm ET
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AMHERST —  The growth spurt officially is underway. 

With expectations sky high entering the preseason, the Celtics didn’t disappoint Tuesday night, showing off a new-look roster that is loaded with offensive options and tenacious defense. 

Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder each scored 11 points in the first half while Al Horford made his debut, scoring eight points in a 92-89 loss to the injury-plagued Sixers in front of a sparse 4,532 fans at the Mullins Center. The game was officially a home preseason game for Philadelphia, as their parent company, Comcast/Spectacor manages the building. But nearly every fan was cheering for the Celtics. 

Jaylen Brown fired up the crowd with several athletic moves, including a one-handed jam late in the fourth to bring the Celtics close. The first-rounder out of Cal finished with eight points. Isaiah Thomas also had 11 points in his 19 minutes. 

Terry Rozier led the Celtics with 12 points. 

The Celtics showed their intensity on defense to the very last possession. Marcus Smart forced a Philadelphia turnover with 12 seconds left on the sideline, giving Boston a chance to tie. Smart missed a fadeaway three from the left wing with six seconds remaining and the loose ball went out of bounds to Philadelphia. Then after a Smart foul, the Sixers tried to inbound but turned the ball over, giving Boston one final chance with 3.6 seconds left. Jordan Mickey missed a three with one second left to end the game. 

With just under three minutes left in the third quarter, a loud “Let’s Go Celtics” chant broke out. 

And early on, the fans had plenty to cheer about.

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Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder
Al Horford tells Isaiah Thomas he’s ready to do whatever it takes: ‘I have their back’ 09.29.16 at 4:47 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Al Horford knows all about team chemistry.

He was part of a Florida Gators team that sacrificed early departures to the NBA to win back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007.

He stood through thick and thin with the Atlanta Hawks, as they finally emerged as an Eastern Conference power.

Now, he’s hoping to make that experience in team chemistry count with the Celtics. Last week, Horford shot around with team leader Isaiah Thomas and had a special message for him. Thomas took notice.

“It’s so crazy to have a guy like that on the team that — we shot together a couple days ago and he was just like, ‘Man, I’m here to make things easier for you. So just let me know what you need,'” Thomas recalled Thursday. “That’s just wonderful, especially a guy that has that much talent. My job is just making things easier for others and he’s making it easier for me already.”

Why did Horford do that?

“I think it’s important that we have good team chemistry,” Horford said. “And Isaiah is such a great player. It’s amazing the things he can do on the court. I’m here to make the game easy, not only for him, but all my teammates. I want to let them all know I have their back.”

Why is chemistry such a big deal?

“It’s very important,” Horford said. “Coach [Billy] Donovan taught me that as soon as I stepped into camp [at Florida]. He always harped on making sure we’re always on the same page, that we’re feeding off each other and that’s one of the things that feel like I add value. I try to be a team guy and try to help the team in whichever way that I can. Here, they already had really good chemistry. It’s up to me to come in here and try to mesh with everybody and make everything work.

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Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas,
Celtics practice report: Jaylen Brown, Al Horford eased into new surroundings on first day 09.27.16 at 12:49 pm ET
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Al Horford

Al Horford

WALTHAM — The Celtics had about 90 minutes to get a feel for each other, with their first of two practice sessions Tuesday. There was little impact, and “a lot of five-on-zero” said head coach Brad Stevens in describing the morning’s events.

Jaylen Brown, who admitted he got little sleep Monday night due to excitement, showing up to the practice facility 3-4 hours early Tuesday, doled out pass from the elbow to the perimeter with precision and showed good finesse around the rim while partnering up well with Jonas Jerebko during pass-and-shoot drills.

“It was good, I’m just glad to be out here,” Brown said. “I’m learning a lot, a lot of different things today. It’s exciting, you know first day of practice it’s a new journey. I’m happy to be here and I’m having a good time.”

A frequent topic of conversation was the iPads the team hands out so players can take a look at plays. Each player is distributed one of the tablets, which are frequently updated with plays and schemes for them to study. 

“Probably just as much time as I spend at the gym, probably twice as much,” Brown said when asked how much time he’ll spend going through the iPad. “Understanding the game and just trying to speed up that learning curve. Everybody plays the game differently so just trying to speed up my learning curve and learn as much as possible so I can be ready.

“I’m looking forward to the new challenge but I know it’s going to take time, but that’s a very important thing is speeding up my learning curve.”

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Read More: Al Horford, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown
Finally wearing Celtics uniform, Al Horford has his new team giddy with anticipation 09.26.16 at 10:46 pm ET
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Al Horford does the rounds at Celtics Media Day. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford does the rounds at Celtics media day. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM — All the Celtics of recent memory have heard is that they’re just missing “that” piece. There’s no exact definition of what that piece is, but there is belief that Al Horford is said piece.

He can run the floor, play defense in the low post, step out and shoot 3-pointers, play strong around the rim and grab rebounds in the process — nearly all things the C’s needed to address this offseason. And while his addition came at the cost of $113 million over four seasons, it appears that if he continues the trend that has defined a successful nine-year career, he will help the Celtics take another step forward.

“He’s going to open the floor for everybody,” Avery Bradley said at Celtics media day Monday. “He’s a great player on the offensive end, defensive end. He knows how to play the game of basketball. To have him be a part of this team, I’m just happy about it.”

Added Celtics president Danny Ainge (who was exceptionally giddy throughout his press conference): “As much as anything he’s been very consistent over his career. Shooting the ball, playing multiple positions. He’s a guy that fits in with our system with big guys handling the ball a lot.”

With the hefty contract Horford signed, and the track record he’s had in his career, the 30-year-old Dominican is being fancied as the shepherd to take the Celtics to the promised land. And while it may be steep to put that all on Horford — especially on a team-centric squad like the Celtics — his all-around skill should fit into the C’s system.

“We’re not asking Al to be anything more than him,” coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s a good fit for how we play on offense. He’s a good fit for how we play on defense. He’s a professional. He has a routine. He works hard at his craft. He’s a guy that guys can follow by example.”

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Celtics Player Preview: Al Horford 09.21.16 at 8:58 pm ET
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With Celtics training camp set to begin on Sept. 26, presents a player-by-player breakdown of the roster. The Celtics have 20 players under contract but will have to cut the roster to 15 by the start of the season.


2015-16 season 

82 games with Hawks: 32.1 minutes, 15.2 points, 50.5% FG, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 blocks

Horford was selected to his fourth All-Star team and continues to be one of the league’s most productive big men. After finishing the 2014-15 season atop of the Eastern Conference with a 60-22 record, the Hawks had somewhat of a disappointing season last year, but Horford was one of their bright spots. For the past two years, his production in points, rebounding and assists are identical and he has improved his average in blocks from 1.3 to 1.5.

Projected role in 2016-17

Horford will be one of the most important players in the front court for the Celtics. He gives the C’s another 15-plus-point scorer and the fact that shoots at a 50 percent clip from the field gives the Celtics a very consistent scorer. Alongside Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson, Horford strengthens the defense down low and he’ll be able to slide back to the power forward position instead of playing center, where he can be much more effective in defending undersized forwards. His mid-range shot — that can extend out to the 3-point arc — will spread the floor on offense, forcing opposing teams to run out to defend him and making room for guys like Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to take the ball to the rim.

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