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Boston Celtics: Al Horford is a man on a magnificent mission

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The fourth quarter was a thing of sublime beauty for the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Made three-pointers to the left and made three-pointers to the right rained downed in San Francisco for the Celtics, giving the Splash Brothers a taste of their own medicine. It was a jubilation of threes all game long, highlighted by the ageless wonder Al Horford.

Game 1 was a timely effort from the 15-year veteran. Playing in his first NBA Finals, Horford moved one win closer to earning that elusive NBA championship ring.

Al Horford is earning playoff keep for Boston Celtics

Heading into the season, I had expectations that if Horford contributed 13 points and seven rebounds per game, the Celtics would be in fine position. Though he fell short in the points department (10.2 ppg), Horford contributed 7.7 rebounds per game.

Most importantly, however, was the valuable leadership and insight Horford brought to this team, along with contributions in the box score. The playoffs, however, have seen Horford up his game and deliver some of the best performances of his career.

Game 1 of the Finals was no different, as Horford connected on six of his eight shots from deep, which was part of a 21-41 performance from the Celtics (Golden State shot 19-45 from deep on the other hand). Overall, Horford shot 75 percent (9-12) from the floor, leading Boston with 26 points on the way to a 120-108 victory. Horford also added six rebounds and three assists on the night.

Efforts like this one from Horford have fueled the Celtics from the get-go in this year’s playoffs when he had a 20-point, 15-rebound performance in Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets. Though there has been a tendency to have a drop-off in the following game — or later in the series — in the box score, Horford has been invaluable.

He’s been a key in picking up the slack when stars Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum are having an off game. This was the case in Game 1, where Tatum struggled (3-17, 12 pts) in box score appearances. Tatum did have 13 assists, doing what it took to win, as Horford and company rose up to the occasion to fill the scoring needs.

Horford has been a beacon of consistency throughout the playoffs. He averaged 13 points per game in each of the first two rounds, adding 9.8 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Horford has had at least one magnificent game in each round, too, playing like he was ten years younger.

Game 1 was an encouraging sign for Horford, too, because he struggled from deep the last three games in the Heat series, shooting only 3-15 from deep. Horford had 11 points in the final frame of Game 1 as the Celtics overcame a lackluster third quarter.

Boston Celtics: Third quarter blues

One item of importance since January is Boston’s ability to finish out games. The fourth quarter was often the problem in the early going but struggles in the third quarter have been a woe of the Celtics in years past. Those struggles resurfaced in Game 1, as Boston was outscored by 14 in the third. And it might have been worse if not for better play in the last few minutes of the frame.

It’s funny how those third quarter ghosts still sit in the minds of fans. It is a little fresh, with a 25-point deficit against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semis. But overall in these playoffs, Boston has been mostly even in third quarters, with even a couple of games seeing the team outscore opponents by double digits in the frame.

Horford’s presence is a benefit in closing out these games, as has the maturity of the core group of Celtics who have been together multiple seasons now.

It was a complete team effort in Game 1. While expectations of the Celtics shooting the ball the entire series like they did in the fourth quarter should be tempered, they got the job done. At this point, Horford’s ability to do whatever it takes might be enough to propel the Celtics to banner number 18. And if that indeed comes to fruition, it will be a well-deserved reward for the grizzled veteran of this Boston Celtics team.

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