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Jayson Tatum on Al Horford: “Everybody loves and respects him.”

Al Horford might not be a nightly starter, but he’s showing the Celtics why he’s still an important factor.

Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

BOSTON — Al Horford had the rare opportunity to start for the Celtics after it was announced the team would be without Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday against Atlanta on Sunday night. In Boston’s 113-103 victory over the Hawks, His defensive prowess was a determining factor in the win as he continues to showcase his adaptability and professionalism on and off the court.

In his 17th NBA season, the Dominican native is now in his 6th year with the Celtics. Only starting a total of five games this year, Horford has adapted flawlessly to his new role as the team’s “sixth starter.” For a veteran that’s started every game but 20 in 1028 regular season matchups, he’s embraced his role with positivity and grace.

To win, you have to sacrifice, right? And that’s exactly where Al Horford’s mindset is at. And with that said, he is a beloved member of this C’s team.

“It gives us so much energy and we get so excited when he does those things,” Jayson Tatum said after Horford finished with 6 points, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 3 assists, and 15 rebounds against Atlanta. “That’s contagious. The crowd feeds off of that. He’s the guy on our team. Everybody loves him and respects him. Night in and night out, he does things like that we can’t say thank you enough.”

He was involved in several pick-and-roll plays on offensive and post ups, but let’s first focus on the defense, where #42 grabbed 12 defensive rebounds. The big man becomes just the third player in franchise history to grab 15-plus rebounds over the age of 37.

From start to finish, Horford hustled for all 32 minutes, often performing things on the court that don’t show up in the box score. On several occasions, Horford had strong boxouts against Hawks center Clint Capela, which resulted in Celtics teammates grabbing the rebounds instead. Hustling out of bounds for the boards, the C’s forward was often seen crashing the glass all the way from the corner.

We need to praise coach Joe Mazzulla for switching Al Horford’s coverage on Hawks’ Trae Young midway through the fourth quarter. Boston often plays drop coverage, which wasn’t effective with Neemias Queta on the floor against Young. Play after play, Derrick White struggled to fight around screens, which resulted in several long-range shots by Young. In fact, out of his 33 points, Young tallied 10 in the final quarter, and 66.6 percent of this three-point shots came unassisted.

Once down by 20, Atlanta cut the deficit to eight points. But by sticking Horford on Young, it forced an inside trap on the Hawks guard, often missing several three-pointers against Horford. Keeping Young on his hip, Horford was effective in forcing turnovers and keeping the game on Boston’s side. To showcase how important his defense really was, Horford held Trae Young to just 1-7 from the field, and the Hawks 3 of 18 from the floor.

Yes, you read that correctly, the entire Hawks team shot just 16.6 percent when matched up against the veteran. Young went specifically 0-4 from long range against the C’s veteran.

Towards the end of regulation, Horford swatted the ball right out of Trae Young’s hands and into the arms of his son in the stands with less than three minutes remaining. If that isn’t a statement, I don’t know what is.

Crucial down the stretch, Horford was seen all over the court, creating strong rebounding opportunities, and even played stiffling defense on Bogdan Bogdanović in the final seconds. Bogdanović, who torched the Celtics with 23 points on 70 percent three-point shooting, finished 0-2 against the C’s big man.

Bottom line, the Celtic’s are extremely lucky to have a veteran presence, who will put 100 percent of his efforts in various places. Chasing his first NBA title in his career, that’s what NBA champions do. They give it their all and embrace their role no matter what the circumstance is. When #42 is called, he’s always giving the C’s all of himself, and doing so with the upmost professionalism.

“He sets the example every day. And sometimes, guys like him can go underappreciated,” Mazzulla told the media. “We have to be able to show the way that guy wants to win.”

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