Celtics’ Al Horford dominates after lengthy NBA Finals wait

Jayson Tatum can win video games single-handedly.

But Boston proved he doesn’t need to.

Even with Tatum struggling in Thursday’s NBA Finals opener, it didn’t matter. Not with that protection. Not with that fourth quarter. And not with Al Horford.

As Tatum suffered by a uncommon off evening, Horford was nothing lower than sensible in his NBA Finals debut. And it was becoming that the venerable huge man put the exclamation factors on a 120-108 Game 1 win over Golden State, with an and-one and flex for the Chase Center crowd.

The 35-year-old Horford had waited 15 seasons to lastly play in an NBA Finals. Nobody in league historical past had ever logged extra postseason video games than Horford with out reaching the Finals, till he lastly clinched his berth in his 141st playoff tilt.

That’s an eternity granted to valuable few, and he didn’t wait that lengthy to not seize his alternative with each arms. Horford had a team-high 26 factors and 6 rebounds, taking pictures 9 of 12 general and 6 of 8 from 3-point vary — a career-high for the playoffs or common season.

“I’m just grateful for this opportunity,” mentioned Horford. “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 and just excited to be able to share this stage with these group of guys. … And it’s just fun to see all that come together.”

Al Horford
Al Horford
Getty Images

It got here collectively late for the Celtics, prefer it had this season.

Horford — a Celtic from 2016-19 — remembers driving residence along with his household from visiting his mom in Atlanta final June when he acquired the decision that he was being traded for, coming again to Boston. He remembers all of the screaming within the automobile, and gratitude.

He’s simply as grateful now.

Horford texted Tatum after listening to concerning the commerce, and instructed the Celtics’ younger franchise star that he thought they may get precisely the place they’re now. That quiet confidence by no means wavered, even after a 23-24 begin by Jan. 21.

That helped hold them collectively to shut 28-7. And it helped once more Thursday, even with Tatum struggling by a 3-for-17 taking pictures evening.

“We were ecstatic for him. Al is the OG, man,” mentioned Marcus Smart. “He places within the work. Don’t no person should be right here greater than him.

“The way that he carries himself professionally, the professionalism he comes to this game with every day, we knew it was only a matter of time for him to have a big game, and continue to have a big game. That’s what he does. That’s what he’s been doing. He’s been that catalyst for us this whole year.”

Horford checked again into the sport with Boston down 101-97 with 6:34 left. By the time he went again to the bench, his and-one had them up 120-105 with 48.3 seconds left.

He’d poured in 11 factors in a decisive 23-4 run. He’d adjusted effectively on protection, stepping up with Robert Williams III to change and shut out on shooters. And ultimately he picked up the slack for Tatum and helped ship a gap victory.

“He played amazing and carried us and lead us to victory,” mentioned Jaylen Brown, including, “We win as a team. I know the media likes to push the narrative between certain players, but it’s a team game. The best team is going to win out [over] the best individual player so we just got to keep playing as a team.”

Which has been Boston’s power, and the best way they smothered Kevin Durant in beating the Nets within the first spherical, and unseated Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending-champion Bucks within the second spherical.

“We do look at ourselves as a complete unit, as a team,” Boston coach Ime Udoka mentioned.

“We’ve seen the teams that rely on guys in the playoffs — whether it was Brooklyn the first round with Durant, Milwaukee with Antetokounmpo and Miami with [Jimmy] Butler — we know if you take those guys out, teams are going to struggle. We pride ourselves on everybody being able to contribute on both ends. That’s rewarding, especially on a night when your best guy has an off night. Others step up. … Al coming in, stepping up late. So it is rewarding.”

And encouraging.

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