For the first time since 2008, the Boston Celtics are in the NBA Finals with a roster that was 23-24 on January 21, with many questioning the team’s ability and character. Boston then flipped the script and finished the season 51-31 overall, going 28-7 after January 21.
Al Horford was one of the many new faces on the team this year who remained confident in the group even at the lowest point of the season. His first rodeo with Boston started in 2016 and ended in 2019 when the team went to the Eastern Conference Finals under then-coach Brad Stevens in his first two seasons.
Horford played with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Robert Williams in that first stint. When the five-time All-Star returned last summer, he could feel the team’s potential before the season even began.
“I texted Jayson (Tatum) and told him that I was looking forward to being in the position this coming season,” said Horford. “And I really believed that. When I shared that with him, I looked at our group, I saw the potential there. I already played with these guys, I know what they’re about, and I just knew that if we got it together that we were gonna have an opportunity, we were gonna have a chance.”
It took them a bit longer than other teams, but Boston found their stride and peaked at the absolute best time. Adding Horford helped improve Boston in some areas they struggled with last season, like rebounding and overall defense. In 2021, Boston ranked 15th overall in the NBA in total team rebounds, 22nd in defensive rebounds, and 14th in defensive rating.
Bringing back Horford changed the dynamic for 2022 when Boston ranked second in defensive rating, improved to being the fourth-best rebounding team in the NBA, and elevated back to one of the best offenses in the NBA.
Horford also brought strong leadership to a team that doesn’t have any other players north of 29-years-old, something they lacked last year. With Horford back on the team, the team’s maturity has shined throughout their playoff run.
Horford has been critical for Boston averaging 11.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in the 2022 playoffs. Though his box score numbers do not indicate his impact and value to this Boston team, advanced numbers suggest Horford has the most win shares in these playoffs while simultaneously being +4 in defensive box score plus/minus, both tops on the Celtics.
The NBA Finals begin on Thursday, with the Warriors hosting the Celtics for Game 1.