Where has Al Horford's offense gone?

Al Horford hasn't been himself lately, and it's showing.

Horford, arguably the Boston Celtics' most important free agent signing in my lifetime (and I'm no spring chicken), is renowned as a true two-way player and stretch big man. Lately, he's been neither, and the culprit has been his offense. It's been four games now since Horford has had double digit scoring logged, which, as far as I am concerned, officially counts as a slump for a player who'd posted 12 such games in a row before that. He's still doing his job and then some on defense, but part of the value he brings to the team is (OK, was) his ability to space the floor, making room for Isaiah Thomas to operate effectively.

In the last four games, the Celts, clinging to the second seed while the Toronto Raptors make a run at them with their new additions (even sans Kyle Lowry) have lost three, winning one against the current eighth seed (the Detroit Pistons) by a mere six points. This is not a coincidence. When Horford isn't shooting, teams get confident guarding Thomas, especially in the fourth quarter. Scheduled offensive explosions are always good on paper, but when you can plan for it, it makes defensive schema a whole lot easier, especially when you have three quarters of evidence you can sag off the frontcourt completely. To his credit, Thomas shoulders at least some of the blame, per the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn:

"I gotta see the flow of the game, I got to get him the ball, there’s no excuse for it ... I’m the point guard of this team and I’ve got to do a better job of getting him the ball in his spots. He has to do a good job of getting open and demanding the ball, but I’ll do a better job of that on Sunday."

What's the cause of this slump? We may never know. It's not time to panic just yet - four games is a small sample size, and slumps can continue for twice that or even longer with no discernible cause. However, it's worth noting severe concussions can do long-term damage to all kinds of things which would impact a basketball player on offense. Everything from communication skills and emotions to sight, balance, depth perception and other fine motor skills can be altered for extended periods of time, only to have the symptoms come and go, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

As scary as all of that may be, it's much more likely this is a normal, run of the mill slump we're talking about, given it's only been four games. We should remain calm, know where our towel is, and let Al sort out whatever it is that's ailing him. It would be nice to see him hoisting more bricks (OK, not nice, but at least less frustrating than seeing pass the ball instead) until it's clear his disinclination to shoot is based in something more tangible than simple reluctance or a string of bad luck, but that's not always how these things work.

Whatever the issue is, we should be patient - at least for now - while also treating this as an object lesson: Boston needs consistent scoring of some kind - from somebody besides Isaiah, and soon - whether it comes from within once Avery Bradley returns to pre- injury form, or without from the likes of a Terrence Jones, Brandon Jennings, or some other free agent off the waiver wire. Or be comfortable in the fact this year is not the year, and so long as the Celts make it out of the first round, the season was a success.

Remember when that was the goal? Is that too low a bar now? Maybe. There's still 22 games left, and a lot can happen in a quarter-season. Sit back and (try to) enjoy the ride.

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