By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — A lot has been said about Al Horford’s $113 million contract that he signed with the Celtics over the offseason.
Horford has been called a lot of things during his first year in Boston, but very rarely has he been called a star player. Many have questioned why the team would dish out a max contract for a player who doesn’t play like a max contract guy; he doesn’t score 30 points or pull down 20 rebounds a night. He doesn’t scream and scowl on the court, or take over a game in the fashion many fans want.
Instead, Horford is a quiet assassin. He doesn’t do it with flash or flair, but at the end of the night, he’ll have a fully loaded stat line. And when he’s at his best, more often than not the Celtics are on the right side of the scoreboard.
But not much has been silent about Horford’s postseason, with the forward/center averaging 16.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and seven assists in Boston’s seven games. He’s shooting 62.7 percent from the field and knocking down half of his three-point attempts, a big part of spacing the floor for Isaiah Thomas to drive to the basket as well as he does. Boston’s pick-and-roll offense has enjoyed success this postseason, and the majority of that falls on Horford’s shoulders.
The big man’s passing is as crisp as it gets, and he even occasionally brings the ball up the floor, an uncommon point-center, if you will. If basketball kept track of “hockey assists,” there’s little doubt Horford would be close to double digits in that category every night.
He’s not your ordinary star, but Horford is certainly playing like one this postseason.
That’s not to say Horford didn’t pull a disappearing act at times during the regular season. Even the 30-year-old admits that, and told reporters on Monday that it took nearly all of the regular season to get comfortable in Brad Stevens’ offense. That process was slowed by a concussion Horford suffered at the beginning of the year, not to mention injuries to other Boston starters that kept their starting five from staying together for very long.
But it’s a process that is now paying off big dividends for the Celtics at the most important time of the season.
“I would say the last couple of weeks of the [regular] season was when I felt like I started to get into some sort of a rhythm,” Horford said Monday, as Boston gears up for Tuesday’s Game 2 against the Washington Wizards. “Some guys can go right in and just do their thing. Others it takes a little more time so you’re fully comfortable with the system and what’s expected.”
“I feel like I played well during the year, just not as well as I wanted to. Now, I just feel like I’ve found my rhythm,” he added.
“I’m glad we’re still playing,” Stevens deadpanned when told of Horford’s comments. “It is hard; it’s an adjustment coming to play in a new place with different guys for a new coach. And he still helped us win a lot of games. We’re glad he’s here.”
Horford’s all-around impact on the floor was on display in Sunday’s Game 1 victory over Washington, as he posted 21 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. He scored nine of those points in the fourth quarter, helping extinguish a potential run by the Wizards.
“Al has had a great playoffs,” said Stevens, who moved Horford to center in the middle of Boston’s series comeback against the Bulls in the first round. “We’ve talked a lot about how it doesn’t always get brought up in the stat sheet and sometimes I think a guy like him, averaging 15 points, is like other guys averaging 25, for what he means to our team. He’s been great.”
No, he’s not your ordinary star player, but Al Horford is a giant part of Boston’s success this year– in both their 53-win regular season and even more so during their current run in the playoffs. He’s playing his best basketball at a time that matters most, and will have to continue to do so if the Celtics want to play deep into the summer.
Given his play over the last two weeks, Horford looks more than up to that challenge.