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BOSTON – Al Horford played in 141 playoff games before making his first Finals appearance Thursday night, and he made it well worth the wait.
On the eve of his 36th birthday, Horford turned back the clock with a 26-point, six-rebound, three-assist performance, leading Boston to a 120-108 Game 1 win over the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center.
The veteran center shot 9-of-12 from the field, including a career-best 6-of-8 from 3-point range, which set the NBA record for most long-distance makes in a Finals debut.
“It was the way that we were moving the ball on offense, just being in those positions,” Horford credited his teammates for his historic shooting performance. “I felt like the guys kept finding me time after time.”
Horford’s shooting was one of the main factors that allowed Boston to overcome a 15-point second-half deficit, as he shot 6-of-7 from the field after halftime, including a perfect 4-for-4 clip during the fourth quarter.
He scored 11 of Boston’s 40 points during the final frame, while Golden State only mustered 16 as a team in the quarter. The 24-point advantage marked the largest fourth-quarter differential in Finals history.
“Just continue to play – that was our message throughout the whole game,” Horford said of what inspired Boston’s comeback. “They're such a good team and for us, it was just continue to play no matter what. Our guys, that's what we did. It wasn't our best game, but we continued to fight and find different ways to get this win.”
Marcus Smart says Horford was the inspiration behind that fight. The 15-year vet has set the tone throughout the season with his work ethic, and to see him come out in the team’s 101st game of the season playing with such freshness and confidence was quite a sight.
“We were ecstatic for him,” said Smart, who contributed 18 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two steals. “Al is the OG, man. He puts in the work. Nobody deserves to be here more than him. The way that he carries himself professionally, the professionalism he comes to this game with every day, we knew it was only a matter of time for him to have a big game and continue to have a big game.”
Though, Horford has been having big games all throughout the playoffs. Throughout Boston’s postseason run, he's produced five 20-point games, he’s reached double digits in rebounds nine times, he’s had nine multi-block efforts, and he’s tallied five double-doubles.
“That's what he does,” said Smart. “That's what he's been doing. He's been that catalyst for us this whole year.”
Combining his scoring and rebounding with his 3-point shooting places Horford in uncharted territory, as he is the oldest player in playoff history to average at least 12 points, nine rebounds, and two 3-point makes per game during a single postseason run. And with 38 makes from long-distance, he just needs five more to fall to break Nikola Jokic’s record for the most 3-pointers by a center during a playoff run.
What Horford is doing is special. “Phenomenal,” says Jaylen Brown. You rarely see a 35-going-on-36-year-old leading his team to playoff wins on a regular basis, but that’s exactly what Horford has been doing all along.
He’s been a man on a mission to get to reach his first Finals, and now that he’s here, he’s not letting it go to waste.