Inactive in OKC to NBA Finals: Al Horford has been 'phenomenal' for Celtics after career revival

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

SAN FRANCISCO – Al Horford doesn’t emit a lot of visible emotion. That’s been his style for 15 NBA seasons. Quiet, do-your-job type of player.

His Boston Celtics teammates, however, are joyous that Horford finally reached the NBA Finals after reaching the conference final three previous times.

“Nobody deserves it more than this guy on my right here, man,” Jaylen Brown said after the Celtics defeated Miami in Game 7 of the East finals. “His energy, his demeanor, coming in every day, being a professional, taking care of his body, being a leader, I'm proud to be able to share this moment with a veteran, a mentor, a brother, a guy like Al Horford, man. He's been great all season, really my whole career. I'm happy to be able to share this moment with somebody like him.”

The procession of superlatives continued as the Celtics arrived in San Francisco for the Finals.

“We were ecstatic for him,” Marcus Smart said. “Al is the OG, man. He puts in the work.”

Every player appreciates making the Finals, but you know how much a player is respected and revered when his teammates are more thrilled for him than themselves.

That’s who Al Horford is to the Celtics. And of course, Horford appreciates his trek to the Finals.

“Just grateful for this opportunity,” he said. “It's just going out there and playing basketball at the end of the day. That's just what it is. … God has put me in this position, and it's something that I embrace and I'm excited about. Just excited to be able to share this stage with these group of guys. We have a lot of great guys here, guys that have really bought into what we're trying to do.

“It's just fun to see all that come together.”

Boston Celtics center Al Horford talks to his team during the second half of Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors.
Boston Celtics center Al Horford talks to his team during the second half of Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors.

Boston wins NBA Finals opener: Celtics not intimidated by the moment vs. Warriors in rallying to win Game 1 | Opinion

Legacy series?: If Warriors can't beat Celtics in NBA Finals, they'll be haunted by Kevin Durant's ghost | Opinion

Sign up for our sports newsletter: All the sports news you need to know delivered right to you!

When Horford was the primary reason the Celtics won Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, 120-108, the praise from teammates continued.

Horford scored a team-high 26 points, including 11 in the decisive fourth quarter, and he made 9-of-12 shots from the field and went 6-for-8 on 3-pointers. Two of his 3s came during a 24-11 Celtics run that turned a 92-85 Warriors lead into a 109-103 Celtics advantage.

“Phenomenal,” Brown said. “That's what we need. That's what we want. We want that veteran leadership to carry us over. Al had a bunch of great looks. We encouraged him to keep taking them. He came out his first Finals game and played amazing. He carried us and led to a victory.”

A year ago, Horford, who celebrated his 36th birthday on Friday, was stuck in Oklahoma City, sent before the start of the 2020-21 season to the Thunder from Philadelphia, where Horford didn’t fit. But he was not part of the Thunder’s plans. He played in just 28 games and was inactive for the team’s final 28 games.

At 35, what remained of his NBA career?

The Celtics and president of basketball operations Brad Stevens had plans to revive Horford’s career. He played for Boston from 2016-17 through 2018-19. Boston re-acquired Horford in a trade with the Thunder.

“When I got the call from Brad, it was really, really exciting,” Horford said. “We're just all screaming in the car, just really, really excited, really, really grateful. Right away we're just making plans about heading back to Boston, doing the physical, doing all this stuff.

“It was a really happy time for my family at that time. Especially for me because it's where I wanted to be.”

Horford was with his family visiting his mom in Atlanta when he learned of the trade. “I already played with these guys before,” he said. “I know what they're about. I just knew that, you know, if we got it together, we were going to have an opportunity, we were going to have a chance. It's something that I believed from the beginning.”

The Celtics weren’t just doing him a favor. They needed him to perform, and he did. Horford averaged 10.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and shot 46.7% from the field and 33.6% on 3-pointers. But Horford is player whose value can’t be measured in traditional statistics. His impact, especially defensively, is far greater. He can shoot 3s, space the court, pass and defend guards, forwards and centers.

In the postseason, the Celtics score 113.8 points and allow 103.2 points per 100 possessions. His net rating of plus-10.7 is higher than Jayson Tatum, Brown and Smart. He brings a savvy, old-man’s game – nothing flashy – to the Celtics and has been a key reason why they limited Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler in the East playoffs.

“It's incredible what he's done all season,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “As I mentioned, came into training camp in extremely great shape, chip on his shoulder, prideful, wanted to come back to Boston. … His leadership goes without saying. A vocal guy but does a lot by example, and I think everybody kind of ties into him.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Al Horford has been crucial piece of Boston Celtics run to NBA Finals