Al Horford and Celtics guided him and took advantage of his second chance in the NBA title


After a dysfunctional 2018-19 season that ended with Kyrie Irving sabotaging the Boston Celtics in a second-round exit game and reneging on his commitment to re-sign with the storied franchise, Al Horford opted to secure a more lucrative $109 million bid than the leaving Philadelphia 76ers In free agency.

Two seasons later, the wayward veteran found his way home to Boston, where the fledgling Celtics he had left were preparing to spread their own All-Star wings, and together they handed what they got. He survived Horford for 14 seasons and 141 playoffsmore than any other active player: his first appearance in the NBA Finals.

Horford put in a dominant defensive effort against the Miami Heat in The seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday eveningand the three players who nurtured their careers in Boston – Jason Tatum, Jaylene Brown and Marcus Smart – did enough insult to stay alive. 100-96 clinch victory streak.

“No one deserves it more than this guy on my right here, man,” said Brown, who spent the first three seasons of his career playing alongside Horford and sat next to him on the podium. “His energy, his demeanor, he comes every day, being a professional, taking care of his body, as a captain I am proud to be able to share this moment with a veteran, mentor, brother and guy like Al Horford. He has been amazing all season, really all of my career. I am so happy Being able to share this moment with someone like him.”

Horford, whose maternal grandfather passed away before Boston’s heartbreaking loss of Game 6, fell to his knees as emotions ran into his first conference finals in four attempts. He bowed and shouted one word at the hardwood of the FTX Arena. “Yes,” he said over and over again, before his colleagues helped him get back on his feet.

“My grandfather was someone I was very close to, someone I really cared about,” Horford said, “and all week, my family asked me to go out there and play. This is something he wanted me to do. , just to carry on and try to focus and understand that he is at peace now.”

Horford became the biggest free agent signing in Celtics history when he signed in 2016. The Atlanta Hawks had defeated the Boston in a first-round series, but they were swept away by the Cleveland Cavaliers from LeBron James in the conference semi-finals, and he saw what the Celtics were building. Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Smart, had a mixture of hard workers and the last remaining 2008 Celtics championship – two high-picks drawn from the Brooklyn Nets versus Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Horford led the Celtics to the Eastern Finals in 2017 and 2018, respectively, junior years in third place in the Browns and Tatum picks. Boston replaced Thomas with Irving and added Gordon Hayward between those two years, but season-ending injuries to both All-Stars left the Celtics with Brown and Tatum as the team’s top scorer in a seven-game loss to none other than LeBron Caves in the game. 2018 conference finals.

“When you lose those series, obviously it hurts and it’s tough,” Tatum said. “But you never forget that. That’s what we all have in common. We’ve all been through those tough times, and we remember how it made us feel.”

All along, Horford was a skilled professional. He was ridiculed nationally for losing to LeBron in four playoff games in a row and domestically, with a Boston sports radio host calling him his nickname.average Al, ignoring Horford’s contributions as a centerpiece that allows the Celtics to defend and move the ground offensively out of all five positions. They didn’t have the firepower around him to match LeBron’s greatness, at least not yet.

Boston Celtics heavyweight Al Horford accepts the Eastern Conference Championship trophy after defeating the Miami Heat to advance to the NBA Finals.  (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Boston Celtics heavyweight Al Horford accepts the Eastern Conference Championship trophy after defeating the Miami Heat to advance to the NBA Finals. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

So, when James left the East, and Irving undermined the Celtics, Horford faced another tough career decision between an existing team with a sub-championship cap and the next young roster on the rise. He opted for Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the Sixers, only to watch the cutting-edge trio of Tatum, Brown and Smart lead Boston to the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to Miami in six games.

When Horford’s forward partnership with Embiid failed in Philadelphia, the five-time All-Star star heard boos from Sixers fans and worse, from their front desk. They traded him, along with a lightly protected first-round pick, to the Oklahoma City Thunder at a payroll dump. Thunder put Horford on the ice in his quest for a large sweepstakes lottery, and his career was headed for an unofficial end, with no championship aspirations.

Only, the Celtics came in again, once again needing him for a young crew captain who fell off course during the .500 season. Horford was available to anyone who could match his $27 million salary last summer, and no one called until Boston offered Kemba Walker and a first-round pick in a deal that was Criticized by some basketball players who rely on analytics. Horford was the same as ever, undervalued.

The Celtics started the season on shaky ground, and first-year coach Im Odoka reminded them of their instability at every dip. Horford laid the foundation for their defensive identity, and trusted the offensive development of Tatum, Brown and Smart. As much as Odoka’s brutally honest criticism was necessary, Boston needed Horford’s steady hand to balance the emotions in a young team still finding its way.

“When he came back, it gave us a sense of security,” Smart said of Horford. “Al got us back. He’ll always play right on both ends, he’ll calm us down, show us what we’ve missed, and help us learn the game more. We appreciate everything he brings to this game – his mentality, his professionalism, that’s the biggest part for us, the way Which he brings every day to work. We look forward to that, and we try to include that in our lives and in our game.”

Their belief in each other fueled a remarkable transformation. Horford was the eldest of the fraternity that made up the best basketball team for the final four months of the regular season. Their defensive bond has been as unbreakable as anything the league has seen since the Celtics last reached the Finals in 2010, and the rising stars have been realizing their potential. Tatum made the NBA first team, Smart was the Defensive Player of the Year, and Brown received votes for both the All-NBA Team and All-Defensive.

Equally important to Boston’s success, Horford was Horford again. Given the opportunity to revive their careers with a roster he helped raise, the two of them lifted each other to levels no one would have imagined a year ago. They’ve outdone Kevin Durant’s Nets, outdone Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks, and yes, they’ve outdone Jimmy Butler’s Heat.

“I’ve been part of a lot of great teams, and I’m so proud of this group,” Horford said. “I have seen [Brown] Come in the league, make moves, take the levels. I have seen [Tatum], The same. I have seen SMART grow. It’s just special to be with them and be able to help them and be a part of this. I am grateful to be in this position.”

All that is left to raise is the eighteenth flag of the franchise. Standing in the way of Horford’s Hall of Fame legacy, the Golden State Warriors, the only three-time champion, fully realized the potential of the roster he’s channeled.

“The dream of every athlete is to reach the final stage and have a chance,” Smart said. “I’ve been here for four years in the Eastern Conference Finals, and I’ve been brought home every year. It feels really good, and it feels really good for Jason and Jaylen. We’ve been together longer – even man just so happy for him. He’s played all these games He’s working on his tail. He deserves it more than any of us.”

We rarely see a second chance in sports, or at any point in life, but these Celtics make the most of them.

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Ben Rohrbach Writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have a tip? Email it to [email protected] Or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach