Every great championship team has a player that might not be the superstar or go-to option on the offensive end, but shows up night in and night out, leaving everything out on the floor, whether their contributions are minimal or they greatly effect the outcome of close games. Players that come to mind are James Posey and PJ Brown during the 2008 championship run, or Robert Horry who always seemed to come up big in the clutch moments, especially later in his career with the Lakers and Spurs. In 2022, Al Horford is that guy, but we’ve passed the phase of acknowledging him as a grizzly veteran helping a young squad reach their first NBA Finals as a unit; we’re now bordering on a legendary postseason that as fans we rarely appreciate until that player retires.
It wouldn’t be far fetched to draw parallels between Horford’s career and Kevin Garnett’s, as their style of play are somewhat similar and their professional career storylines almost follow the same path. However history never repeats itself, but it does rhyme. Horford, who is now 35 years old, has been in the league since 2007 and has pretty much seen it all except for the NBA Finals. 141 career playoffs games without a chance of winning a ring, but that all changed last night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
What makes this story even more emotional and carry a lot of weight is the fact the acquisition for Horford during the offseason wasn’t one of those cases where you bring in a veteran piece on a championship caliber team, nor was this Al’s first time in Boston. Besides Marcus Smart, who has played his entire career in Boston since being drafted in 2014, Horford has seen it all with this franchise during the post Big Three Era. With the hopes of signing Kevin Durant, Horford was set to join forces with the prolific scorer and help Isaiah Thomas lead a Celtics team to playoff and championship contention. As history has shown us, it wasn’t meant to be.
He would then be a crucial piece to the puzzle the following season when the Celtics managed to acquire Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, creating a team that had a lot of promise and high expectations. Opening night, Hayward goes down with the gruesome injury that’s still ingrained in our minds, completely altering the trajectory of this team, but in a good way. The young rookie, Jayson Tatum and 2nd year man Jaylen Brown, alongside Marcus Smart and Al Horford would find themselves one quarter away from making it to the Finals in 2018, but LeBron made sure his reign in the East wouldn’t be usurped prematurely.
After a few rough seasons with the 76ers and wasting away on the bench in OKC, it was time to bring the veteran home where he truly belonged, and that’s with the Boston Celtics.
Surrounded by a young nucleus and new coach, Boston would experience a tumultuous first half of the season, filled with drama, despair, and discouragement. But something clicked in January, where all the potential and talent finally shined through, giving the Celtics new life and achieving one of the greatest turnarounds in NBA history.
When the playoffs started, Boston would face an opponent that was far more lethal than their record or seed would suggest. The Brooklyn Nets would be a challenge that the Celtics were eager to face head on, however on that Easter Sunday, Kyrie Irving was locked in and ready to steal home court. Al Horford’s tenacity would be put on full display, posting a double-double with 20 points and 15 rebounds, with his last board leading to a Tatum game winning layup on the other end.
Throughout the series, Horford would continue to make the right plays in key moments, but it wasn’t until the 2nd round versus the Milwaukee Bucks that the whole world witnessed Al’s importance to this team.
In a crucial Game 4 where the Celtics were not only down in the series 2-1, but trailing throughout the game, Horford came through time and time again in the 4th quarter. If dunking on the Greek Freak wasn’t enough, he made all the hustle plays, knocking down three point shots, and helped put Milwaukee away to tie the series at 2-2. It would be this night where Al would solidify his place in Celtics lore, as he not only had to defend Giannis, but posting a 30 point game at 35 years old while looking like the best player on the court was nothing short of legendary.
While Horford would not have another dominant performance in the Semi or Conference Finals, he’d be the rock the young Celtics would look to, not only for his veteran leadership, but also his calm and cool demeanor. He was charged with the task of stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo, and then Bam Adebayo when the Celtics faced the Miami Heat. Playing well over 30 minutes a night, Horford’s energy never wavered, in fact he was probably in better shape than most of the guys on the court.
As they approached the final minutes of Game 7, the Celtics were looking to put the last nail in the coffin, but Miami had other plans. Getting within 2 with less than 30 seconds remaining, you couldn’t help but feel nervous and emotional, not necessarily as a Celtics fan, but as viewers who’ve watched this team, specifically Al give everything they had to win. It would be fitting that Horford would secure both rebounds in the closing seconds to complete the most grueling playoff runs any team has ever faced, and now Boston has a chance to win a championship.
Win or lose, Al has shown his professionalism, his heart, soul, and determination. A true champion and legend that both the young and old can appreciate. He’s exemplified everything that the Celtics organization is about, and after the ups and downs, the losses and heartbreaks, it only seems right that Boston closes this storybook ending by hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy one more time, and getting Al his first championship before he retires.