Al Horford thrive in first final appearance


SAN FRANCISCO — Al Horford, known over 15 seasons for his calm and quiet leadership, let his emotions out in the playoffs.

There he was again Thursday night, flexing and thrashing his chest, rallying his teammates and, at the age of 36, making plenty of plays in a 41-16 fourth-quarter run that gave the Celtics a 10-foot lead. 1-0 over Golden State in the NBA Finals.

It was 4 for 4 in the fourth, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 5:08 followed by, set up by his own volley, another bomb from the top of the circle. He eventually scored eight straight points in the 17-0 run, then rebounded from a Jaylen Brown miss and ejected Marcus Smart for the first of two threes by the Celtics point guard.

“We were thrilled for him,” Smart said. “Al is the OG, man. He gets to work. No one deserves to be here more than him. The way he conducts himself professionally, the professionalism with which he approaches this game every day, we knew it was only a matter of time for him to have a big game and continue to have a big game. That’s what he does. That’s what he did. He’s been that catalyst for us all year.

Horford has often referred to his second stint with the Celtics as a second chance. The fact that he reached the final for the first time in his career is now part of a living dream.

“Phenomenal. That’s what we need,” Jaylen Brown said of Horford’s Game 1 appearance. “That’s what we want. We want that veteran leadership to carry us. Al had a heaps of great looks. We encouraged him to keep taking them. He came out in his first game in the finals and played amazing. He carried us and carried us to a victory.

Says Horford: “Just grateful for this opportunity. It’s just going out and playing basketball at the end of the day. It is exactly what it is. Just grateful to be in this position. God put me in this position, and it’s something I embrace and am passionate about. Just excited to be able to share this milestone with this group of guys. We have a lot of great guys here, guys who have really bought into what we’re trying to do. It’s just fun to see it all come together.

Fourth quarter record

According to statistical whiz Dick Lipe, the Celtics set an NBA Finals record with that fourth quarter of 41-16, breaking the old winning margin of 23 points – set by the Celtics against the Hawks. (40-15) in 1960, and tied by the 1982 Sixers with a fourth 44-21 against the Lakers.

Also from Lipe:

Heading into Game 1, the Celtics were 2-95 all-time as they trailed 12+ entering the fourth quarter. Teams with a lead of more than 12 points entering the 4th had been 140-2.

The Celtics’ 33 assists were the most for the franchise since Game 6 in 2008 against the Lakers. Tatum’s 13 assists were the most by a Celtics forward since Larry Bird had 13 in 1986 against Houston.

Magic Johnson, with 14 against Detroit in 1989, is the only player to have more assists in Game 1. Bird and Dennis Johnson are the only other players on the list with 13.

The Celtics’ .767 assist percentage was their second-highest in the playoffs.

The rise of white

Derrick White’s fourth quarter, like Horford’s, was key. The guard buried two of his five 3-pointers in the stretch and overall helped the Celtics through some of their sticker moments with a 5-for-8 3-point shot overall.

Boston Celtics center Al Horford, left, celebrates with guard Derrick White (9) during the second half of Game 1 of the NBA Basketball Finals against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, Thursday, June 2, 2022 (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

He’s shot 11 for 18 from deep in the last three games and continues to be a perfect match for Ime Udoka.

And when the Warriors spotted White in a certain room trying to help Jayson Tatum, he made the most of his open looks.

“I thought they would keep me like that before the series. They kept me like that the last time we played them,” he said. smelled good, so I stayed confident. Teammates and coaches have always told me to stay confident. Good to see that one breaks down and just started from there.

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