BOSTON -- The Miami Heat arrived in Boston on the brink of elimination. Now they are heading back home with the chance to advance from the Eastern Conference Finals in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics on their own turf Saturday night.
With a commanding 98-79 win on Thursday, the Heat have reclaimed momentum in the series behind a 45-point, 15-rebound performance by LeBron James. They were confident entering Game 6, and they are prepared for a battle in the deciding match up.
I will continue to be aggressive, said James. I will try to continue to play at a high level like I have done the whole postseason. If it results in these numbers or whatever the case may be, Im going to go out there and play my game and play as hard as I can. I dont really care what the stats say. I wont regret Game 7. Win, lose, or draw, Im going to go in with the mindset like Ive had this whole season and well see what happens.
The Heat won the first two games of the series at home, lost the next two in Boston, and were defeated in Game 5 in Miami. But after a Game 6 win at the TD Garden, both teams have won on the road and Saturdays match up will be a duel between protecting and stealing home court.
Game 7 is nothing promised to you, said Dwyane Wade. You have to go out and play the game, and you have it give it your all. This is going to be a knockout after knockout after knockout after knockout game. Hopefully we are standing at the end.
Tonight’s pregame number to watch is 45.4%. That was the Celtics' score frequency on pick and rolls finished by the screener last season, which was the worst rate in the NBA.
Score Frequency: The percentage of possession in which the team or player scores at least 1 point.
The major problem for the Celtics last season was personnel, as Jared Sullinger finished the most pick and roll plays for the C’s after setting a screen, and he was -- to put it nicely -- freaking terrible. Sullinger was the second-worst roll/pop man in the league, averaging a paltry 0.87 points per possession.
Fortunately, the Celtics replaced Jared Sullinger with four-time All-Star Al Horford, who is one of the elite roll/pop men in the NBA. Last season, Horford finished fifth in the NBA averaging 1.13 points per possession as a roll/pop man and boasted a more than solid 57.1 eFG% on those plays.
eFG% (Effective Field Goal Percentage): Measures field goal percentage adjusting for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. The equation is ((FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
If you watched the preseason, then you already know the kind of impact Horford can have on the Celtics half court offense. So keep an eye out for those pick and rolls tonight and throughout the season, and we should see that 45.4% Score Frequency jump somewhere closer to 50%.
BOSTON – This is not where Al Horford thought he would be right now.
Back in May, the Atlanta Hawks had just been swept out of the playoffs by the soon-to-be NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Disappointed with the outcome obviously, Horford was a free agent-to-be who was confident that he would be back in Atlanta and the Hawks would retool by adding to their core group which he was a major part of, and they would be back to making another run at it this season.
First there was the draft night trade of point guard Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers.
And during Horford's negotiations with the Hawks in July, they were also negotiating with Dwight Howard and ultimately signed the Atlanta native to a three-year, $70.5 million contract.
Before the Howard deal was complete, the Celtics had already made a strong impression on Horford during their presentation to him.
So the choice was pretty clear.
Return to Atlanta and potentially have a major logjam up front with himself, Howard and Paul Millsap, or join a Celtics team that’s on the rise where his five-tool skillset – passing, rebounding, defending, scoring and making those around him better – could be put to great use on a team that’s clearly on the rise.
Horford chose the latter, giving both himself and the Celtics exactly what they wanted – stability and a chance to win at the highest of levels.
The first shot to see how this basketball marriage looks on the floor will be tonight when the Celtics kick off the 2016-2017 season at the TD Garden against the Brooklyn Nets.
The preseason isn’t the best indicator of what’s on the horizon now that games count, but Horford’s presence was undeniable.
Boston’s starters which includes Horford, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson, each finished with a positive, double-digit plus/minus in the preseason.
“He just makes the game so much easier for all of us,” Johnson told CSNNE.com. “He can do so many things out there at both ends of the floor. He’s going to be big for us this season.”
And his impact can be felt both on the floor and inside the locker room, similar to what he brought to the Atlanta Hawks.
“With the way that I go about it is, I’m trying to win,” Horford told CSNNE.com. “I’m gonna work, put in my work, try to help guys get better not only on the court but off the court as well. That’s how I carry myself.”
And it is that approach to the game that has made his transition to the Celtics a relatively seamless one.
Horford holds many fond memories of his time in Atlanta, a place that will always be near and dear to his heart.
But he’s a Celtic now, coming in with the same single-minded focus that drives this organization to continue pursuing the only thing that truly matters to them – an NBA title.
"Even though I’m leaving a lot behind, as a player you always want to be in the best position you can,” Horford said. “I felt for me being on this team would put me in a position to be able to contend and win an NBA championship. That’s my ultimate goal.”