Throughout the first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Al Horford demonstrated why he is one of the most irreplaceable players on the Boston Celtics roster.
Bringing Al Horford back to Boston was one of the best moves Brad Stevens has made since he moved to the front office. No. 42 does not always score the most points on the team, but that does not mean his impact is not felt by the opposition. In this past series victory over the stubborn Atlanta Hawks, Horford only scored 35 points, struggling to make his patented 3-pointer.
The former Florida star went 3/11 from beyond the arc between Game 3 and Game 5 but was a critical defensive asset in the painted area. Horford never let the craftiness of Trae Young and the trash talk on the sideline get in his head. Playoff Al has always been a different animal, and this season is no exception.
Whenever he was on the floor, Boston was a different team. Horford is one of six players to have a +/- over 10 so far during the postseason. He is also one of seven players in the playoffs to have averaged over two blocks per game. Down the stretch in series-clincher was a clear indication of why. The 36-year-old checked in at the 8:45 mark in Game 6. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were the team’s key creators on the offensive end, but it was Horford who was the glue to propel the green and white into the second round for the sixth time in the last seven seasons. Everyone is going to point to his 3-point shot in the corner to put Joe Mazzulla’s men up three with 3:35 left, but it was much more than that.
Within seconds of coming into the ball game in the final quarter, he already had two rebounds and a putback following Brown’s miss at the rim. In two consecutive possessions, Horford stole the ball away from Young, getting in the passing lane, and stripping the ball away from the All-Star a play later as he tried to get into the teeth of the Boston Celtics defense.
His second steal gave Brown the opportunity to attack the chest of John Collins and finish at the rim for an easy two down the stretch. Those are the type of plays that make No. 42 the veteran that he is. While he may not be the most athletic player on the floor, the two-time NCAA national champion makes up for it with his intelligence and liveliness.
Al Horford’s defensive rebounding was vital to the Boston Celtics eliminating the Atlanta Hawks on the road
Seven of Horford’s 12 rebounds came in the fourth quarter. The man knows how to make a difference when the stakes are raised. There were so many key rebounds that got lost in the shuffle. His biggest one of the night came with under a minute left after Young missed a floater in the lane. Horford got up with authority, snatching the ball out of the air with two hands before finding Tatum for an outlet pass. His composure on the offensive end to find Tatum cutting with under 50 seconds remaining officially closed the door on any hope of an Atlanta comeback.
With a series coming up against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, the five-time All-Star is going to have to build off the way he ended the Hawks series. His physicality and defensive versatility are going to be critical to the success of Boston against their hated rivals en route to the Eastern Conference Finals. The importance of his display on the defensive end throughout the Hawks series cannot go unnoticed. Even though guards targeted him at times, there was never a drop in energy in Horford’s play as he continued to make life as difficult as possible for whoever stepped foot in the painted area.