Despite The Journey To Get Here, Celtics Getting No Love or Respect

It’s almost become too much of a cliche at this point, but the Boston Celtics’ improbable journey during the season where they overcame internal discord, chemistry issues, a sub .500 record and somehow turned it around to become a title contender is mind blowing. This storyline gets even more unbelievable when you look at the road this team needed to take to even reach the NBA Finals.

Starting the postseason off, the Celtics would face the Brooklyn Nets, led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. We can analyze how this team was in complete disarray and that they weren’t at their best with Kyrie missing half the season. But these two superstars that have done it all in this league were outplayed and overmatched in 4 straight games to be the only team swept in the 2022 playoffs.

Advancing on to the Semifinals, Boston’s next opponent would be the Milwaukee Bucks, who were missing one key player, Kris Middleton. Nonetheless, they’d still have Giannis Antetokounmpo who is arguably the most dominant player in the league, but also being the defending champs, Milwaukee had the experience and depth to get by the Celtics even without Middleton. Being down 2-1 and 3-2 in the series, Boston fought back on the brink of elimination to win decisively in Game 7 at the TD Garden.

The reward for advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals was taking on the #1 seeded Miami Heat. Without home court advantage, this young Boston team managed to steal, not 1, not 2, but 3 wins on the road, including a Game 7 in Miami in which the Celtics almost gave it all away with a late 11-0 run where Jimmy Butler missed a go-ahead three pointer that would have likely sent the Heat to the Finals.

Despite all of this the Boston Celtics took on the greatest challengers in the league today, coming back from double digit deficits in some games, being down 3-2 in the Semi’s, and winning back-to-back Game 7’s. For any team, this is quite the accomplishment, especially for a group of guys who for the most part are under the age of 30 excluding Al Horford and Daniel Theis.

Did all this adversity and obstacles earn the respect and praise from ESPN and FS1? Nope. In fact, if you watch any national sports media, you would have thought the Celtics lost Game 7. Was that 11-0 run concerning? Yes, in the moment. However, we’re now a day away from Game 1 of the NBA Finals and that alone is something worth celebrating if you’re a Celtics fan.

While it would be great to see this Celtics team finally get some recognition, maybe it’s a good thing that no one is giving them a shot at winning the title against the Warriors who have been here 6 out of the last 8 seasons. Maybe it’s a good thing that a Boston squad who has no NBA Finals experience isn’t be praised and crowned kings of the East. Maybe it’s a good thing that for players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two emerging stars in this league, still have doubt cast upon them by naysayers who don’t believe this dynamic duo has what it takes to win it all.

A team as young as the Celtics need to be focused on the prize. They must also not get caught up in the moment. If Tatum is the next elite player in the NBA, he’s got to be locked in and know that to be like Kobe Bryant, it’s not going to be an easy road. The next two weeks will define legacies, but also write another chapter in Boston Celtics history.

Can this team win the championship? Will there be another banner hanging in the rafters on opening night next season? We’re about to find out!

Al Horford – The Unsung Hero of the Boston Celtics

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

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.