Horford Humbled During C’s Open Practice

BOSTON – Al Horford is no stranger to TD Garden, and he’s certainly familiar with the enthusiastic sea of green and white that floods its seats during Boston Celtics home games.

The veteran big man played at the arena numerous times during his nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. He summed up those visits Friday night before the Celtics’ annual open practice with one word: “Rough.”

Horford vividly remembers the thunderous boos that rained down upon him at the Garden over the years, with the most recent chorus coming just five months ago when his former Hawks team knocked Boston out of the Playoffs.

Friday night, however, was quite a contrasting experience for Horford. This time when he stepped onto the parquet floor he was wearing green and white, and to his delight he was greeted with passionate cheers as his name was announced over TD Garden’s public address system during an introductory roll call.

Sporting an ear-to-ear grin, the four-time All-Star jogged to center court to greet his new Celtics teammates, high-fiving them as he soaked in his first Celtics Nation ovation.

Now, Horford says, all that’s left for him to do is to represent the franchise’s storied tradition to the best of his ability, and begin his legacy in green.

“I think the biggest thing for me, or really any player who comes here, is to make sure that I gotta come in and play the right way, play with a lot of energy and compete,” said Horford. “We’re trying to be the best team that we can here and it’s an honor to be able to call this home and play on this floor.”

Horford elaborated on that honor following his introduction, as he grabbed a microphone and reciprocated his appreciation for Boston’s fan base. His new coach, Brad Stevens, then took the mic, declaring his excitement for the upcoming season, before sending 10 of his players onto the court for the first of two 10-minute, 5-on-5 scrimmages.

Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Horford represented the Green Team during the first scrimmage, while Tyler Zeller, Jonas Jerebko, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier represented the White Team.

The Green squad, which was made up of projected starters, was certainly the favorite heading into the friendly matchup, but the youthful White Team came out white-hot, as third-year guard Marcus Smart and sophomore guard Terry Rozier spearheaded a 33-26 win.

Smart and Rozier accounted for eight early points – including one 3-pointer apiece – while leading the White team to a game-opening 10-3 run.

The Green Team sprinkled in a few notable highlights along the way as well. Its most promising play was a nice dish from Thomas to Horford, who then cut to the rim for a smooth lay-in. It was a sign of what could be an intriguing on-court relationship between the veteran All-Star duo.

The true star of the session, however, was Rozier, who stated before practice that he feels a lot more comfortable as he enters his second NBA season.

“I’m just waiting for things to fall in place and trying to keep my confidence high and see where everything goes,” he said.

On this night, everything was going into the net for Rozier, as he finished with a game-best 10 points, while also hounding the opposition on the defensive end.

Rozier and Smart weren’t the only young guns who impressed during the open practice. Boston’s top draft pick, Brown, capped off the White Team’s win with a two-handed slam during the closing seconds, which was a sign of things to come for the second scrimmage.

In between scrimmages, Stevens took the microphone to address the crowd once again – this time to recognize Avery Bradley’s accomplishment for earning a spot on last season’s the All-Defensive First Team. The crowd of more than 6,000 fans responded with a standing ovation for their longest-tenured Celtic.

After praising Bradley, Stevens switched up the lineups for the second 10-minute session so he could get a look at some new rotations. This time around, the Green Team was represented by Demetrius Jackson, R.J. Hunter, Damion Lee, Ben Bentil and Jordan Mickey, while the White Team consisted of Brown, Johnson, Zeller, Smart and James Young.

The fresh-legged Green squad was very slow out of the gates, as it only mustered two points during the opening six and a half minutes. Brown guided the White Team to a 13-2 lead, while showing off his jumper with a mid-range shot over Bentil, his passing with a sweet dime to a cutting Zeller in transition, and his athleticism with his second monster dunk of the night.

The White Team held a 13-2 lead at the 4:20 mark, but then the Green Team found its groove and finished off the game with a 22-5 run for a surprising 24-18 comeback win.

Jackson, one of Boston’s second-round picks, started off the run with a 3-pointer that made it 13-5. Mickey followed that up with a coast-to-coast slam on the next possession, and suddenly the Green Team was off to the races.

The Green Team received contributions from across the board, including a few strong performances from the Celtics’ training camp invitees.

Guard Marcus Georges-Hunt was subbed into the game and made consecutive layups that knotted the score at 16-16. Forward Jalen Jones also made his mark as he drilled a 3-pointer, made a driving layup and a slammed home a game-ending dunk with 0.7 seconds left to cap off the night in electric fashion.

The Celtics finished the night off by signing autographs and taking photos with fans before leaving the court. The fans’ greatest gift, however, was witnessing the debut of Boston’s full display of talent that will represent the organization for the 2016-17 season. The players proved that Celtics Nation certainly has a lot to look forward to as they begin their much-anticipated campaign.


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