Keeping it Loose: The Story Behind the ‘Horford Flinch’

MILWAUKEE – Celtics defensive stopper Al Horford positioned himself inside the paint Saturday night, two minutes after tip-off against the Toronto Raptors, and watched as opposing center Jonas Valanciunas launched a 3-point attempt from the top of the arc.

Horford appeared to get into a rebounding stance as the ball approached Toronto’s basket. However, when the rock clanked off the rim, Boston’s veteran All-Star did something unusual: He flinched.

This wasn’t just an ordinary flinch. Horford crouched down, shielded his face with both hands, and braced himself like he was about to be pummeled by a barrage of dodgeballs.

Meanwhile, teammate Terry Rozier calmly leaped in the air, grabbed the rebound, and the eyebrow-raising play was momentarily forgotten amidst the Celtics’ 110-99 win over the first-place Raptors.

After the game, however, many fans revisited the play and questioned Horford’s motives. Video clips from the past began popping up, revealing that this was not the first time he had committed this rebound-flinching act. In fact, it’s something he’s done on rare occasions throughout most of his professional career.

But why? That’s what Celtics.com sought to find out Tuesday morning as Horford prepared for shootaround at BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

“I just try to keep it loose sometimes for the guys,” Horford explained. “The game is so serious at times, and I take it very seriously, but there are times that you put things in perspective. It’s something I’ve been doing for years. I kind of stopped doing it, but the other night it was just (smiles) – I was just messing around.”

Horford typically performs the act on a dead-ball play, such as a missed free-throw or a wild attempt after a whistle. Saturday night’s instance, on the other hand, was during live action, meaning he must’ve been very confident that one of his teammates would be able to grab the board while he was ducking for cover.

“If you look at it, Terry was in the area,” Horford confidently stated. “And he’s great rebounder, so I kind of felt like he was going to get it, so I figured I could do it.”

Horford rarely performs the humorous act, but when he does, it gets quite a rise out of his teammates. A few of his former teammates, such as Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder, have poked fun at the move on social media. Meanwhile, his current teammates are enjoying it just as much.

Jayson Tatum was too busy boxing out during Saturday’s example to notice it, but Celtics.com showed him video footage at shootaround and he immediately erupted into a bellowing fit of laughter.

“Oh my God!” he exclaimed, catching his breath before calling over to Horford to notify him that he had seen the video. “Oh man, that’s funny.”

After Tatum’s chuckles subsided, he explained that there’s a side to Horford that most fans and opposing players aren’t aware of.

“Before I got on the team, I just thought Al was like a really serious guy,” said Tatum. "But he jokes all the time with us ... And that’s important. You’ve gotta keep it light. It’s a long season, things can get stressful, so you’ve gotta have fun with it.”

As serious as he appears on the surface, Horford has a lovable, playful nature about him that he uses to try to bring out the best in his teammates.

“I mean, I am very serious and focused on the game and the things I need to do,” said Horford. “But sometimes you can show your silly side or your funny side at times to kind of just loosen things up with the group.”

Coach Brad Stevens believes that it’s crucial to have a leader like Horford who can be serious and lead by example, yet also knows when to loosen things up and alleviate stress from his teammates.

“He’s got a great spirit about him on the court, off the court, in the locker room and everything else,” said Stevens. “So, his spirit is helpful to our team.”

One must pay very close attention to see all sides of Horford’s infectious spirit, especially when it comes to his comedic side. Fans are aware that he’s generally a serious-minded player, which is why so many have been baffled by this mysterious rebound-flinching act.

“I’m sure people have been curious,” Horford said with a mischievous grin. “And now they know.”

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