Boston Celtics center Al Horford is a 15-year veteran seeking his first NBA title. It’s been a long journey for the native of the Dominican Republic who won back-to-back NCAA championships with the University of Florida in 2006 and 2007. The current NBA Finals is the 35-year-old Horford’s first time playing in the last round of the postseason.
His second go-around with Celtics after three seasons with the franchise from 2016 through 2019 could prove to be the most rewarding of his career. But defeating the Golden State Warriors four games in the best-of-seven series may be the most arduous challenge Horford has faced as a pro. Perhaps the most critical element in Horford and the Celtics attaining their goal is maintaining positive consistency and avoiding costly letdowns.
Throughout this postseason, the Celtics have alternately been the best team in basketball and a careless squad seemingly lacking the requisite focus and precision execution of a champion. Entering Game 3 last night in Boston, the series was tied at 1-1. The Celtics’ dominant fourth quarter in Game 1 last Thursday, in which they left the Warriors shellshocked, bombarding them with 9-11 three-point shooting and outscoring Golden State 40-16 to snatch a 120-108 victory, displayed their soaring capabilities on both ends of the floor.
Horford led the way with 26 points on 12 shots, making nine and hitting six of eight three-pointers. Three nights later in Game 2, he was on the other end of the production scale, taking only four shots and registering just two points as the Warriors turned the tables, running away with a 107-88 win to earn a split at home at the Chase Center in San Francisco.
“We just have to play at our own pace, make sure that we’re driving the ball, driving and kicking,” said Horford afterwards. “When we play like that, that’s when we’re really at our best.” Horford wasn’t the only Celtic who had a significant drop-off. Starting point guard Marcus Smart went from 18 points in Game 1 to two in Game 2.
Yet throughout this postseason, with the Celtics’ two young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown being the driving forces behind the team’s success, Horford’s play has been the barometer for how well Boston performs. After registering 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game during the regular season, he had raised those numbers to 12.1 points on an efficient .512 overall field goal percentage and a sizzling .463 on three-point attempts in addition to 9.3 rebounds per game prior to Game 3.
The series will remain at TD Garden in Boston for Game 4 tomorrow night and move back to Golden State’s home court for Game 5 on Monday. Game 6 if necessary will be back in Boston next Thursday.