Let’s take a moment to appreciate the reclamation journey of Al Horford. In November 2020 he was getting shipped off to the Oklahoma City Thunder after his time with the Philadelphia 76ers came to an unceremonious end. At that time, he had three years and $109 million remaining on a contract that was only a year old and was aging like milk. He was coming off a season with the Sixers where he struggled to solidify his role alongside Joel Embiid, and looked like a shell of the efficient, productive player we grew accustomed to seeing with the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks.
Fast forward two years later, and not only is Horford playing in his first NBA Finals game ever, his 26-point, six-rebound performance just led the Celtics to a Game 1 win over the Golden State Warriors. Horford’s six made 3-pointers were also the most he’s made in a single game in his career.
After the game, Horford shared his emotions in finally reaching the NBA Finals after missing out for so long.
“Just grateful for this opportunity,” Horford said. “Just grateful to be in this position. 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.”
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It certainly came together for Horford, who struggled to get going offensively in Boston’s last two games against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. He combined to go just 2 of 12 from long range in Games 6 and 7 against the Heat, and finished with just eight points in those two contests. Tiredness could’ve been a factor in his poor performances to close out that series, because clearly the three days of rest did wonders for the grizzled veteran, who turns 36 years old on Friday.
From the opening quarter of Game 1 Horford was rolling. He was knocking down mid-range jumpers after popping out to the elbow, and sinking wide open rhythm 3s on the wing.
As each quarter passed Horford kept laying the foundation of a perfect offensive game with each made shot, and it culminated in a dominant fourth-quarter performance headlined by him and Jaylen Brown. Boston was down 12 points to open the fourth quarter, but a one-two punch of Horford and Brown helped dig the Celtics out of a hole.
It was Horford’s 3-pointer with five minutes left that gave Boston the final lead of the game. He proceeded to score eight points over the final three minutes to secure the Celtics win and hand Golden State its first home playoff loss this season.
The Celtics couldn’t have asked for a better performance from Horford, especially on a night where Jayson Tatum was getting swarmed on defense and had to instead make an impact with his passing. The All-Star forward finished with just 12 points on 3 of 17 from the field and 1 of 5 from beyond the arc, but racked up 13 assists. Horford was on the receiving end on some of those Tatum passes, and he capitalized nearly every time. An off scoring night for Tatum would typically spell disaster for Boston, but the team’s depth was on display, and Horford’s play on both ends of the floor was at the center of it.