If the Boston Celtics go on to win the NBA championship, Al Horford’s Game 4 performance will live on in Boston’s sporting tradition until the East Coast explodes into the Atlantic, or climate change truly sinks its teeth into the planet.
Without him, on Monday evening, the Celtics fell 3-1 to defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, and instead returned to Boston with even chain And they regained the court’s advantage on their own land. None of this is possible without Horford’s impressive performance. Of his 30 points — his highest in career performance — 16 came in the fourth quarter, including two brutal 3-point shots, the latest of which will give the Celtics a lead late in the final quarter. Give up the rest of the game.
As much as the Celtics needed all those points last night, when Horford was at his best for them, he was on the defensive side of the ball. Per Stat Muse, when guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, Horford managed to catch him with 30.6 percent of the field.
While Monday was a career night for Horford, it was also a statistical anomaly. Although he is a five-time NBA All-Star, nothing else stands out when you look at his basketball reference page. He is known as a dependable scorer, but he has never even gone unnoticed at averaging 19 points per game per season. He has averaged double-digit rebounds only once in his career and has been named for the same number of All-NBA and All-Defensive teams. Even when he was in Florida – the last great multi-season race in men’s college basketball – he averaged less points per game than Joachim Noah and was never the unanimous All-American, but Horford would be the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft pick. NBA Noah IX.
The scouts then knew what NBA players, media, and fans would find out next. While there’s nothing spectacular about Horford, his steady presence and basketball IQ being the pinnacle of Josh Smith’s vertical leap, he’s the kind of player who will always make a difference to the team – unless of course he plays alongside Joel Embiid in the 2020 COVID version of NBA.
After back-to-back College Nationals in 2005 and 2006 — Florida is the only men’s program to have achieved the feat since Duke won back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992 — he went to the Atlanta Hawks and had an immediate impact. Smith and Ezo Joe have been there for a couple of seasons when Horford was drafted, but they didn’t do much to get the Falcons out of the avalanche they’ve been in since the turn of the millennium – no playoffs to appear. Not only did the Hawks make the playoffs during Horford’s rookie year, but as the eighth seed, they took eventual NBA champions the Celtics in seven games in the first round.
During Horford’s time with the Hawks, they did not miss the playoffs. Sure, many of these series have been on NBA TV, but for the first time since Dikembe Mutombo, Mookie Blaylock, and Steve Smith won 50 games at The Omni and Georgia Dome, the Hawks were the winner. Sure, Josh Smith’s failure to be the first player to herald a 3-point era five years ago was as frustrating as Jeff Teague’s inconsistent play, but the one who brought it all together was Horford. High, low, both in attack and defense, was their rock. So what if he doesn’t put ISO numbers Go? had Offensive rebound and score This gave the Hawks a 3-2 lead against the Washington Wizards in the 2015 supplement series and would help propel the franchise to its first appearance in the Conference Finals since it was in St. Louis. Until Trae Young’s playoff performance last year, this was the undisputed biggest play in Atlanta Hawks history.
This was Horford’s last season with the Hawks. He will go on to sign a contract with the Celtics, which will completely change his way of playing. It’s in Boston where his defense would become nationally recognized as he punished a young Embiid every time the Celtics played for the Philadelphia 76ers, and still managed to run the periphery when necessary. Then when attacking, he could still do what he did with the Hawks, but the Celtics needed more paint space for their mission to succeed.
So after averaging more than half a 3-point attempt per game just once while with the Hawks, Horford hasn’t tried more than three points per game consistently with the Celtics but in four seasons with them, he’s hit them with less than 37 percent. Something he tried for one season in Atlanta, would be crucial to helping the Celtics in back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After two years in Philadelphia and Oklahoma City, the Celtics brought Horford back into the lineup with Jaylene Brown and Jason Tatum, who are no longer college-age kids, but young NBA All-Stars. Since January, the Celtics are arguably the best team in the league, and they are now fighting a dog fight with the Bucks. As brilliant as Tatum and Brown have been since the turn of the year, the Celtics survived through a road game they were so late and desperately needed to win – Horford.
When his career is over, how you remember him will depend on where the person lives and/or the size of a basketball fan. Those in Atlanta and Boston will keep his memories of him in their happy place for the rest of their lives. For basketball fans, he will be remembered as the clear cutest player on one of the best college basketball teams ever, and he deserves all the pre-draft hype. This top-three pick may not have made a huge amount of viral plays, and he wasn’t a statistical beast in the NBA, but he played excellent basketball and won 15 seasons, 18 if you count his time in Florida.
Since the Basketball Hall of Fame is not limited to professional jobs, he deserves serious attention. It’s one of the faces of men’s college basketball’s recent dominance, and however you feel about it, it’s a historic achievement. Ditch that with five NBA All-Star appearances and being a major contributor to competitive teams for the vast majority of his career, this is a resume worthy of showing up in Springfield.
If he didn’t get there, he would definitely be respected by those who watched and worked with him for two decades. Horford may not have been twenty years old or 10 guys, or you’ve had eye-catching advanced analytics numbers, but if you’ve watched him play since he’s been at the benchmark at Gainesville, you know what you’ve seen – great consistent play.