BOSTON — It took him 15 seasons and 141 playoff games, but Al Horford is finally heading to the NBA Finals.
The Celtics veteran is known for his stoic and calm demeanor, but he couldn’t contain his excitement in the closing seconds of the Boston’s 100-96 Game 7 win over the Heat in Miami on Sunday night.
Horford corralled the final rebound of the game and even before the clock hit zero, threw the ball in the air in celebration. When the buzzer sounded and the Celtics were officially Eastern Conference champs, Horford collapsed to the floor in joy.
Horford admitted that he didn’t know how to act at the podium following Boston’s win, but no one will fault him for sending the ball into the stratosphere. The man has earned this moment.
“It just got caught up and I got excited. It’s been a lot of hard work,” Horford said after the victory.
“No one deserves it more than this guy,” Jaylen Brown said at Horford’s side at the podium. “His energy, demeanor, coming in every day and being a professional, being a leader. I’m proud to share this with a veteran, a mentor, a brother, a guy like Al Horford. I’m happy to share this moment with someone like him.”
In true Horford fashion, he gave ends of credit to his teammates following Sunday’s win.
“I’ve been part of a lot of great teams with a lot of great teammates. This is a great group; I’ve seen Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum take steps, seen Marcus Smart grow. To me, it’s special to be with them and help them be part of this,” he said. “I’m grateful to be in this position.”
And that is what makes Al who he is. He points the spotlight at everyone else before himself. He doesn’t need to score 30 points a night to lead the team; he does that vocally and by example his play.
Horford, who will turn 36 the day after playing in his first NBA Finals game, scored just five points in Game 7. But he was a beast on the glass with a game-high 14 rebounds, and he was huge on the defensive end for the best defensive team in the NBA.
To think that a year ago, Horford was wasting away in Oklahoma City after the Philadelphia 76ers decided they didn’t want him anymore. The Thunder didn’t play him much, hoping to cash in on a trade chip in the offseason. Horford remembers those tough times, and has even been looking at the photos on his phone to remember where he was a year ago.
“It’s perspective for me. I look back and see where I was just day to day,” he said. “I’m just very grateful to be in this position with these guys.”
Brad Stevens saved Horford from NBA purgatory over the summer, bringing him back to Boston to be the glue to hold the team together. Horford has done that and more, giving the Celtics’ young core the veteran leader they’ve needed.
And now, after 1,090 regular and postseason games, Horford is getting his first chance to become an NBA champion.