Because his game does not pop off of the screen, Al Horford has been underrated for the majority of his career. Some Boston fans were upset when Danny Ainge inked the five-time All-Star to a massive four-year $113 million deal to anchor the post position in the Garden. For anyone who needed validation of his talents and contribution to a team, look no further than the opening playoff series for the Boston Celtics against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The ten-year vet had an underwhelming regular season statistically. His 12.9 points per game to go with 7.4 rebounds hardly are representative of a man whos contract occupies the general space of the NBA’s elite. However, when the Celtics needed him the most, he delivered. Playing without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Big Al and a group of fiery 20-year-olds took out a tough Milwaukee Bucks team that felt as if they had something to prove while staring at a 17th straight season without advancing to the second round. Horford led the way with a career playoff-high 18.1 points per game along with 8.7 rebounds that culminated in a 26 point performance on Saturday night to help the Celtics advance to the second round.
Coach Brad Stevens talked to Yahoo Sports after the game about Horford and his effect on this young Boston team.
“He’s been a stabilizing force since he’s walked in our locker room,” Stevens said. “I think that’s the best way to phrase it. He provides stability for all of us. Whenever you have lost other guys to injury, when people aren’t available, when things aren’t going your way, he’s likely been through it. He provides a very calming influence to the younger players.”
Going forward the Celtics now will have the rare obstacle of being underdogs despite having homecourt advantage vs. the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers. The accomplishments of Joel Embiid are well documented in his first healthy season. The Celtics will be depending on Horford to apply pressure to Embiid offensively and defensively throughout the series. A knock on Horford has been his lack of aggression offensively, but after entering the season as the third option he seems to be relishing his role as the consistent old dog on a scrappy team led by an excellent head coach.
Proud of this group, we keep finding ways to get it done. Go Celtics!
— Al Horford (@Al_Horford) April 29, 2018
The Celtics could have easily rolled over in the first round and returned next season at full strength to make noise. No one would have faulted their young core of guys like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and others for falling short after missing their two lead options. Boston is a resilient sports city, however, and Al Horford is leading the charge in their surprising run.