Al Horford has been an unquestionable force for the Boston Celtics postseason run this year. While guys like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have gotten most of the attention, Horford’s efforts have been occasionally forgotten. He ranks second among Eastern Conference centers -third on the team- in points per game (17.2), he leads his team -fourth in the conference- in rebounds per game (8.3), and he leads both the team and conference in blocked shots per game (1.38).
He out-dueled the Milwaukee Bucks big man tandem of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker in the first round. He only needed five games to help send home the Philadelphia 76ers and their man in the middle Joel Embiid. And in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night, he was the games third leading scorer with 20 points and tied LeBron James for the most blocked shots (2). Heading into Tuesday nights game two, he’ll be called upon to dominate once again.
The Cavs will certainly change their approach after game one’s 25-point loss. LeBron James has always gone back to the drawing board after a tough loss and he usually comes back as the better performer. Horford will be asked to help the aforementioned Tatum and Abdel Nader keep King James in check while also adhering to his duties with Cavs center Kevin Love. He’ll also have to keep up his offensive output in order to keep a possible Cleveland resurgence at bay.
In the greater scheme of things however, Horford’s overall body of work during these playoffs has stood out above other great players….
Horford, who’s Dominican and the son of former NBA player Tito Horford, was one of seven Latino players when the 2018 NBA Playoffs began last month. The others were Argentinian Manu Ginobili and Spaniard Pau Gasol of the San Antonio Spurs, Puerto Rican Carmelo Anthony of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Spaniard Ricky Rubio of the Utah Jazz, Dominican Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Brazilian Nene Hilario of the Houston Rockets.
Towns led all seven men in scoring (21.3 PPG) and rebounding (12.3 RPG) during the regular season, but in the end Minnesota’s lack of postseason experience is why they were eliminated in the first round by Houston in five games. Anthony averaged 16 points per contest during the season but only converted 22-of-59 field goals as the Thunder were bounced out of the first round by Utah in six games. Gasol only scored in double figures once during the Spurs opening round series with Golden State in which they were dispatched in five games. His teammate Ginobili scored in double figures three times in that same series but it wasn’t enough. Rubio scored 14 points per game against OKC but didn’t play a single minute as they were eliminated by Houston. As for Hilario; he’s only averaged single digits this postseason, so Houston’s appearance in the Western Conference Finals is largely due to the team around him.
This means that Horford has been the most successful Latino player in these playoffs. He’s scored in double figures in all 13 playoff games that he’s appeared in. He scored 20 or more points in five of those appearances. His lowest outputs were a couple of 10-point performances which were game two losses to both Milwaukee and Philadelphia. He’s grabbed eight or more rebounds in eight of these games, and he averages well over 30 minutes of playing time per game.
It helps that Horford plays for the team that finished with the fourth-best regular season record (55-27) this year. The Celtics are the most well-rounded team in the Eastern Conference with Horford as their most experienced player (11th season). They play as a complete team and that will be the key to getting past Cleveland and moving onto their first NBA Finals since 2010. In the same token, the Cavaliers will have to find a way to stop Horford if they hope to make their fourth straight Finals appearance.
Game two on Tuesday night is a must watch.