Al Horford managed a difficult season with Oklahoma City Thunder in 2020-21. He played in just 28 games and was inactive for the final seven weeks of the season, biding his time for something better than that.
He wasn’t part of the Thunder’s future, wasn’t sure about his future, but he knew he needed a new team.
Horford found a new team, which happened to be his old team, the Boston Celtics where he played from 2016-2019.
When Boston acquired him in an offseason trade that sent Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City, Horford’s sister, Anna, tweeted, “WE’RE BACK BABY,” with the requisite shamrock emojis.
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A key part of Boston’s rotation during the regular season, Horford has been superb in the playoffs and the reason why the Celtics are tied 2-2 with the Milwaukee Bucks in an Eastern Conference semifinals series.
In Boston’s 116-108 victory in Game 4 on Monday, Horford scored a playoff career-high 30 points and had eight rebounds and three assists. He scored 16 points in Boston’s decisive fourth quarter in which the Celtics outscored the Bucks 43-28.
“I was really just locked in,” Horford said. “I understood the moment (and) what we needed to do as a group. Just really came out and did whatever it took.”
He made 11-for-14 shots from the field, including 5-for-7 3s and helped the Celtics overcome a 10-point third-quarter deficit on the road. During a two-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, Horford had nine of Boston’s 11 points, including a massive dunk on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“Big play obviously. Very emotional, and for our group, it really got us going even more at that point,” Horford said.
Earlier in the third quarter, Antetokounmpo dunked on Horford and gave him snarled stare, resulting in a technical foul for Antetokounmpo. Horford just nodded his head.
“I don’t know what he said to me, but the way he was looking at me and the way he was going about it really didn’t sit well with me,” Horford said. “At that point, I think something switched with me in the game.”
Later in the fourth, he made back-to-back sneakers giving Boston the lead for good.
“We told him to be extremely aggressive,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said.
At 35 years old, he is the story of the second round for the Celtics, and his veteran presence has a calming effect on a young and talented team.
“He’s the best vet we’ve ever had,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “He comes in, he never changes. Things going bad or good, he’s going to be him and nine times out of 10, it’s going to work out in our favor. It was very much needed of him, and he came through big for us and helped us secure this win.”
Against Milwaukee, Horford is averaging 18.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals and is shooting 54.9% from the field and 50% on 3-pointers.
It’s not just Horford’s offense. Along with teammate Grant Williams, Horford has been the primary defender on Antetokounmpo. And while Antetokounmpo scored 42 points in Game 3, the Celtics have made scoring difficult for him. Antetokounmpo is shooting 43.9% from the field, including 12.5% on 3-pointers – well below his season averages. His efficiency has suffered against Boston’s defense.
Horford has held Antetokounmpo to 16-for-49 shooting in the series. He has moved his feet, used his upper-body strength to limit the two-time MVP. Some savvy old man hasn’t hurt either.
“I’m just really grateful for this opportunity that I have. …These are the moments I want to be a part of,” Horford said.