Al Horford has been a starter for his entire career. When the Boston Celtics traded for Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday this summer, a difficult decision needed to be made. A decision that ultimately cost Horford his long-owned starting position.
Jayson Tatum led a meeting that bred positive results, ensuring that every player was satisfied with the results. “I wanted us to get in the room and talk about it,” Tatum told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, who detailed the meeting, which kicked off the most important Celtics season in years.
Since then, there’s been nothing but an outpour of praise for the veteran big man. Tatum, Joe Mazzulla, and the entire Celtics roster have expressed their gratitude and respect for the way he carries himself.
But when Porzingis went down with a calf injury on November 24, Horford was reinserted into the starting lineup. And once there, his early-season slump was snapped.
Through Horford’s first 13 games of the season, in which he came off the bench, he averaged 6.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.5 assists while shooting 45.2% from the field and 36.4% from distance.
In the next five games as a starter, he put up 9.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.6 blocks while shooting 54.5% from the floor and 33.3% from beyond the arc.
His three-point percentage dipped, but all his other numbers soared, and Horford’s impact in those five games was undoubtedly more noticeable. Of course, greater impact often coincides with more opportunities, but one thing was clear—Horford proved he’s still a starting-caliber player.
So, when Porzingis returned to the lineup on Friday night against the New York Knicks, Boston’s pre-season meeting was tested for the first time.
Horford had talked the talk, but this was his first chance to walk the walk. He was clearly comfortable coming off the bench in the first place, but how would he react after getting the promotion and demotion due to Porzingis’ return?
The answer? Exactly what one would expect from the guy who Tatum dubbed “the ultimate professional.”
Horford was a key cog in the machine that drove the Celtics to a 133-123 win over the New York Knicks. He posted a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double to go along with two assists while shooting 5-of-8 from the field and 3-of-6 from distance.
Not only did he pass the test of returning to the bench, but he did so with style, leading the Celtics to a bounce-back win following their elimination from the In-Season Tournament at the hands of the Indiana Pacers on Monday.
At 37 years old and in his 17th NBA season, Horford has been challenged with taking on a role that is completely foreign to him. After spending three years at Florida, winning two national championships, and then making five All-Star teams as a full-time starter for nearly his entire career, he needed to make a switch.
And his response to the change has been one of the most impressive storylines of the Celtics’ season thus far.