Jayson Tatum was asked about Al Horford’s latest two-game stretch – from Game 7 of the first round against Milwaukee to Boston’s win over Philadelphia in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday. He just smiled and said, “Playoff Al. Real impressive.”

Tatum’s understated nature is appropriate, even if Horford’s incarnation as a scoring force is anything but. He tied his career playoff scoring high each night with 26 points, and over the two-game stretch shot 79.3 percent on 23-for-29 shooting.

Horford has attacked everyone from Joel Embiid to Thon Maker off the dribble, and generally played a more assertive scoring role than he’s known for. No doubt this comes out of necessity, with Jaylen Brown missing the last game and a half because of a hamstring strain. Horford is known for making the right play, as opposed to searching out his shot, so this is a significant shift in approach.

Brad Stevens believes it’s easy to overlook Horford’s role as a scorer and shooter.

“He works hard every day,” said the Celtics’ coach. “He comes in and he’s put a lot of work in on his shooting. I’ve even seen it. I feel like he’s really locked in. He’s done a good job of knowing when to roll and post and play an interior spot, and then knowing when to pop and space and those types of things.

“I said this in the beginning of the year, he’s gone from a very good midrange shooter in the league to a good 3-point shooter to a very good 3-point shooter. Now he’s just an excellent shooter. He can really shoot the ball. If you go sit under the rim when he’s shooting in a practice, it’s like the last two games. Over and over it goes in. He works hard at it, deserves to make it, and obviously we love it when he shoots it.”

Brown said he plans to play Thursday night in Game 2, but his status is still doubtful according to Stevens. The Celtics’ reluctance to rush their star back underscores the need for caution with something as quirky as a strained hamstring.

“Jaylen’s a competitor,” said Horford. “I know that he was doing everything he could to be out there, but his health is most important. We didn’t want any setbacks with him. One of the things when I talked to him, I was like, ‘Hey, we obviously really need you out there, but we need you for the long run and we need you to be healthy and to feel good. We don’t want you to come back tonight and aggravate it and be out for a long period of time.’

“So hopefully now he has a couple days to recover and will be back Thursday.”

One key to Monday’s win was Aron Baynes’ ability to guard Embiid without much help. Though the young Philadelphia center got 31 points, there was a sense that for at least one night, he was neutralized.

Baynes’ efforts also allowed other defenders to focus on the Sixers’ elite group of shooters.

“You’re going to have to balance that as the series goes on,” said Stevens. “He could get 31 in isolation or whatever, but if you’re doubling him and everything else, are you giving up 33 because you’re leaving shooters? It’s a fine line, it’s a balancing act, it’s what makes it really hard to play these guys because they’re so talented and they find the hot guy.”

Still, the defense must remain as connected as ever.

“We all as a team have to really be engaged, because those guys are so good individually in some of the things they can do,” said Horford. “Our team defense has to be there in order for us to have any kind of chance of coming out of this series.”


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