If the Boston Celtics go on to win an NBA championship, Al Horford’s Recreation 4 efficiency will stay in Boston sports activities lore till the east coast breaks off into the Atlantic Ocean, or nevertheless local weather change actually sinks its enamel into this planet.
With out him on Monday night time, the Celtics go down 3-1 to the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, and as an alternative return to Boston with an even sequence and have retaken home courtroom benefit. None of that’s doable with out Horford’s spectacular efficiency. Of the 30 factors that he scored — a playoff profession excessive — 16 of them got here within the fourth quarter, together with two monster 3-point photographs, the final of which might give the Celtics a lead late within the fourth quarter that they wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the game.
For as a lot because the Celtics wanted all of these factors final night time, when Horford has been at his greatest for them it has been on the defensive facet of the ball. Per Stat Muse, when he guards Giannis Antetokounmpo, Horford has been in a position to maintain him to 30.6 % from the sector.
Whereas Monday was a profession night time for Horford, it’s additionally a statistical outlier. Although a five-time NBA All-Star, nothing else stands out when taking a look at his basketball reference web page. He’s often called a reliable scorer, however he has by no means even averaged even 19 factors per game in a season. He has solely averaged double-digit rebounds as soon as in his profession and has been named to that very same variety of All-NBA and All-Defensive groups. Even when he was at Florida — the final nice multi-season run in males’s school basketball — he averaged much less factors per game than Joakim Noah and was by no means a consensus All-American, however Horford can be the No. 3 total decide within the 2007 NBA draft and Noah can be chosen ninth.
The scouts knew then what NBA gamers, media, and followers would discover out later. Whereas there’s nothing spectacular about Horford’s game, his regular presence and basketball I.Q. that’s the peak of Josh Smith’s vertical soar, he’s the kind of participant that may all the time make a distinction for a team — except in fact he’s enjoying alongside Joel Embiid within the 2020 COVID model of the NBA.
Following back-to-back school nationwide championships in 2005 and 2006 — Florida is the one males’s program to perform that feat since Duke gained consecutive titles in 1991 and 1992 — he went to the Atlanta Hawks and made a right away influence. Smith and Iso Joe had already been there for 2 seasons when Horford was drafted, however hadn’t executed a lot to get the Hawks out of the tailspin they’d been in because the flip of the millennium — no playoff appearances. Not solely did the Hawks make the playoffs throughout Horford’s rookie 12 months, however as an eighth seed they took the eventual NBA champion Celtics to seven video games within the first spherical.
Throughout Horford’s time with the Hawks, they by no means missed the playoffs. Certain lots of these sequence have been on NBA TV, however for the primary time since Dikembe Mutombo, Mookie Blaylock, and Steve Smith have been successful 50 video games at The Omni and the Georgia Dome, the Hawks have been a winner. Certain Josh Smith failing to be the primary participant to usher within the 3-point period 5 years early was irritating as was Jeff Teague’s inconsistent play, however the one who held it collectively was Horford. Within the excessive submit, within the low submit, each on offense and protection he was their rock. So what if he didn’t put up Iso Joe’s numbers? It was his offensive rebound and rating that gave the Hawks the 3-2 lead in opposition to the Washington Wizards in a 2015 playoff sequence and would assist propel the franchise to its first convention finals look because it was in St. Louis. Till Trae Younger’s efficiency in final 12 months’s playoffs, it was the undisputed largest play within the historical past of the Atlanta Hawks.
That was Horford’s final season with the Hawks. He would go on to signal a contract with the Celtics, the place he would utterly change his game. It’s in Boston the place his protection would turn into nationally acknowledged for him placing a younger Embiid on punishment each time that Celtics would play the Philadelphia 76ers, and nonetheless have the ability to change on the perimeter when vital. Then on offense, he may nonetheless do what he did with the Hawks, however the Celtics wanted extra space within the paint for his or her offense to work.
So after averaging greater than half a 3-point try per game solely as soon as whereas with the Hawks, Horford wouldn’t solely try greater than three per game constantly with the Celtics however in 4 seasons with them, he shoots them at slightly below 37 %. One thing he tried for one season in Atlanta, can be essential to assist the Celtics to consecutive Japanese Conference Finals appearances in opposition to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After two years away in Philadelphia and Oklahoma Metropolis, the Celtics introduced Horford again to their lineup with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who have been not college-age children, however younger NBA All-Star males. Since January, the Celtics have arguably been one of the best team within the league, and are in a canine struggle proper now with the Bucks. As nice as Tatum and Brown have been because the flip of the 12 months, who acquired the Celtics via a street game they trailed most of and desperately wanted to win — Horford.
When his profession ends, how he’s remembered will rely on the place an individual lives and/or how massive of a basketball fan they’re. These in Atlanta and Boston may have recollections of him of their pleased place for the remainder of their lives. For basketball followers, he can be remembered because the clear-cut greatest participant of top-of-the-line school basketball groups of all time, and being worthy of all of the pre-draft hype. This top-three decide could not have made quite a lot of viral performs, nor been a statistical monster within the NBA, however he has performed glorious, successful basketball for 15 seasons, 18 if you happen to depend his time at Florida.
For the reason that Basketball Corridor of Fame isn’t restricted to skilled careers, he deserves severe consideration. He’s one of many faces of males’s school basketball’s final reign of dominance, and nevertheless you are feeling about one-and-done, that could be a historic achievement. Throw that in with 5 NBA All-Star appearances and being a key contributor on aggressive groups for the overwhelming majority of his profession, that’s a resume worthy to be displayed in Springfield.
If he doesn’t get there, he’ll definitely have the respect of those that watched and labored alongside him for 20 years. Horford could not have been a 20 or 10 man, or had eye-popping superior analytics numbers, however if you happen to’ve watched him play since he was on normal def in Gainesville what you noticed — constant nice play.