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Playing against Joakim Noah brings back memories for Al Horford

Celtics Jayson Tatum (0) and center Al Horford (42) present a united front on defense against Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks (24).Brandon Dill/Associated Press

MEMPHIS — Saturday was a reunion of sorts of Celtics center Al Horford and Grizzlies big man Joakim Noah, who were teammates at the University of Florida. They have battled against each other for years, but Noah was in NBA exile, of sorts, in New York when he was banished from the team.

He was finally waived in October and then signed a one-year contract with the Grizzlies Dec. 4. He was averaging 4.9 points and 3.4 rebounds in nine games entering Saturday.

“It’s great to [see] him back,” Horford said. “He loves the game and just to get an opportunity again. Obviously things didn’t go the way he wanted to in New York but now he gets a fresh start.”


Horford said he reflects fondly on those times with the Gators, who won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, when he and Noah were the anchors along with Corey Brewer, who is no longer in the NBA.

“Any time I get to catch up with some of my guys, those are the memories that come up and we talk about it and think about it,” Horford said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. It’s been a while and those were great times. I felt like we really made the most out of that time and for me that was important because I felt like I was able to do my college experience just right and it wasn’t too much and it wasn’t too little. It was like the right time for us.”

Grizzlies coach John-Blair Bickerstaff said Noah has been a strong addition, using his leadership to guide players such as Jaren Jackson.

“I think there’s an energy there that he shows and it’s every single day,” Bickerstaff said. “And that energy’s there in practice. The battles that he’s had with some of the guys kind of raises and elevates practice.


“When he’s not even playing, he’s in the locker room, he’s a presence there. He’s an intelligent person, an intelligent basketball player, so the ideas that he has and the way that he can help, the way he can see the game, his ability to teach that type of stuff to Jaren [is helpful].”

Noah played 11 minutes Saturday, getting 4 points and three rebounds in the 112-103 Celtics decision.

No panic after loss Marcus Smart has been a voice of reason and one of his team’s biggest critics through the season’s first two months, but he said there was no reason to panic after the Celtics allowed 127 points, 45 from James Harden, in Thursday’s loss to Houston. Smart believes the Celtics are making strides.

“[Slippage] happens, you can’t get too high or too low and it’s a new day,” he said. “We’re making progress every day. We know that. We’ve just got to keep going.

“It’s going to click and when it clicks, it’s going to continue to click. We’re going to have some days where it’s off, but we can’t let one game determine us as a team and as a season. We take it. We learn from it and we move on.”

A giving mood

Kyrie Irving made headlines in the past few days after a video surfaced of him giving $240 cash to a homeless man in Houston before the Celtics boarded their team bus for Toyota Center. A bystander took video of the exchange with Irving reaching into the side pocket of his sweat pants and handing the man a wad of cash.

The man then celebrated vigorously around other spectators who were waiting for Celtics players to board the team bus.

Irving said he seeks to help people as much as he can.


“I’ve really been afforded a lot in this life that I play the game that I love, so . . . ” he said. “I just love giving back. I told you my object is to heal the world.”

Irving said he knew he was being videotaped, but has no issue with the publicity for the random action.

“There’s nothing private anymore,” he said. “As long as you know what the intent is, it doesn’t matter if it goes viral or if anybody sees it.”

Injury report

Robert Williams was out for the second consecutive game for what trainers are calling a strained left groin. Williams, the rookie from Texas A&M, said he began feeling discomfort at shootaround Thursday and was a late scratch for the loss to the Rockets.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Williams is likely to miss Monday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs and will be day-to-day when the team returns home.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.