Boston Celtics: Al Horford’s valuable leadership skills helping guide young team

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Al Horford
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Al Horford /

Al Horford played one of the best games in his playoff career to help guide the Boston Celtics to a Game 7 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The big fish landed by the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2016 proudly displayed on Saturday night the reason he was so rightfully coveted.

Terry Rozier continued to prove his playoff worth (26 points) and Jayson Tatum took over the game on occasion, both men igniting the crowd. But it was the all-around play of Al Horford the reason the Celtics will move forward in the 2018 NBA playoffs.

The story has been the same for the Celtics the past few months: No Gordon Hayward. No Kyrie Irving. Injuries to an up-and-coming Daniel Theis and since-returned Marcus Smart added to the teams woes. Outside of Boston, very little thought was given to the Celtics making noise in the 2018 postseason.

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Except no one told head coach Brad Stevens and his band of merry men. At the front of the line is Horford, who has been willing to shoulder the load in whatever capacity needed.

Game seven  against the Milwaukee Bucks proved exactly that as Horford delivered one of the finest playoff stat lines of his career. Horford dropped 26 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 3 assists in the 112-96 victory.

With playoff leading-scorer Jaylen Brown sidelined with a right hamstring injury, Horford did it all. He was seemingly everywhere on defense, scrambling for loose balls and battling on the boards. On the other end of the floor, he was knocking down shots and throwing down emphatic dunks.

This all capped off a series in which Horford led the Celtics with 18.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

The leader the Boston Celtics needed

Stevens might be the leader from the bench, but Horford has taken over as floor general. He is the veteran among the group, willing to do whatever takes to provide leadership. This dates back to game one of this season.

Horford had been bumped down — theoretically speaking — to the third-biggest name on the team. In the early season, it was his three-point shooting helping carry Boston to victories.

Defense and rebounding were also strong suits in Horford’s versatile season. So, too, was the mentoring of the young trio of Rozier, Brown and Tatum.

His valuable experience was even more on display Saturday’s victory. The starters for game seven for Boston — outside of Horford — averaged the ripe old age of 22.

Horford’s leadership qualities can be seen on what goes on between the lines and don’t show up in the box score. His importance is as much about scoring as it is pulling aside a player for a quick strategy session. Or calming down a player in moments of anger or frustration. And it’s about Horford taking aside a player for a good teaching moment, even in the high-pressure stakes of the NBA playoffs.

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Those factors give me the Celtics a lot of hope. The Celtics face a difficult road in facing the Philadelphia 76ers but with Horford at the helm, anything is possible.

After all, it’s his team now and his running mates are more than willing to follow him to the top.