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Horford’s Urgency Sets Tone in First ECF Practice

BOSTON – Knowing that his NBA clock is winding down, Al Horford has perhaps the greatest sense of urgency of any Celtics player to win a championship this season.

Such urgency was on display during Tuesday afternoon’s practice when the 36-year-old big man metaphorically blew the whistle on his teammates, prodding them to turn up their intensity with Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat just a little more than 24 hours away.

“Practice was light, and guys were a little loose,” Malcolm Brogdon recounted after the session had ended. “And Al brought us together in the middle of practice and just told us to tighten it up. I think it's those constant reminders from our leader that's going to help us stay poised, start the series poised, and really lock in.”

It appeared as though Brogdon had taken Horford’s words to heart because he was still glistening with sweat as he spoke with the media.

It’s been said many times inside the Celtics’ locker room throughout the past couple of seasons: whenever Horford talks, his teammates listen.

It's easy to understand why.

With nearly 1,200 regular-season and playoff games under his belt, including more than 38,000 minutes on the court, the 16-year veteran has earned the respect of his peers. He’s a role model on and off the court, his work ethic is second to none, and his basketball knowledge is held in high regard.

“I think he's seen the most, but he's also just sort of taken the throne on leading us,” said Brogdon. “And you know you have a special leader when guys like Jayson Tatum, a top-five player in the world, Jaylen Brown, another top player in the world, listen to him. They quiet, they listen to him. They want his feedback. They want his leadership. So Al's been that special leader for us all season.”

Horford’s leadership was on display at various moments throughout the last round against his former Philadelphia 76ers team. One example took place after Boston’s heartbreaking Game 5 loss at home, which put it on the brink of elimination. As the seconds ticked away in their defeat, Horford sat near the end of the Celtics’ bench with one arm draped around the shoulders of Marcus Smart and the other around the shoulders of Jayson Tatum, letting them know that the series was still theirs for the taking.

“I was just making sure everybody was good,” he later told Celtics.com of that conversation. “Making sure everybody was ready for [Game 6].”

Of course, the Celtics wound up winning Game 6 on the road before trouncing the 76ers by 24 points in Sunday’s Game 7 series clincher, proving Horford’s words of encouragement to be effective.

“The guy we followed all season, our leader, is Al Horford,” Brogdon iterated. “I think he's going to continue to lead us.”

And Horford’s teammates will continue to follow because they want so badly to see him raising the Larry O’Brien trophy next month.

“Al has given this league so much,” said Brogdon. “He’s given this organization so much, these guys so much. And I think a big piece for us is to want to see him go out on top, go out with a championship, go out with a ring. Because he’s more deserving than anybody.”