BOSTON — Al Horford’s max contract has been a popular topic of debate for Boston sports pundits this season.
While much of the criticism toward the Celtics center has been unfair and/or come from people who don’t regularly follow basketball, he’s consistently shut up his doubters with stellar playoff performances.
And the Celtics’ Game 5 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night at TD Garden was no different.
Horford scored 19 points, dished out seven assists, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots in just 28 minutes during a typical all-around performance for the veteran forward. His play was a major reason why Boston won 123-101 and took a 3-2 lead in their second-round NBA playoff series.
“I think Al brings so much to this team,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “He’s a veteran leader. He’s been in this position before. I just really enjoy playing with him. He slows the game down for everyone. To me, he’s almost like another Isaiah Thomas on the floor, another point guard that can lead us.
“And he’s very vocal, he’s a guy who helps us all keep our composure. We were kind of falling apart at halftime and Al kept everyone together and told us that if we continue to keep playing the same way and have a great third quarter, we have a chance to win the game. If Al continues to play that way, I feel like he’ll make the game easier for all of us. Al is passing the ball better than, to me, any big in the NBA.”
Horford’s fundamentals don’t often show up on the stat sheet, but they certainly impact the game. This exchange with Crowder in the third quarter when Washington appeared to be mounting a comeback was one example. It also was one of several nice passes by the C’s big man.
One of Horford’s most valuable skills is spreading the floor and knocking down outside shots. He’s 17-for-29 on 3-point attempts in the playoffs, and he went 3-for-4 in Game 5. His playoff 3-point percentage is 23 percent higher than his regular-season mark.
The Celtics signed Horford to a four-year, $113 million contract last summer, not just because they had a lot of salary cap space and wanted to bring in a star. They identified a player who would positively impact nearly every area of the game at both ends of the court. And that includes his leadership and composure on and off the floor.
Horford has been the Celtics’ most consistent player in the playoffs — 10-plus points and 50 percent from the field or better in nine straight games — and they need that to continue to close out a talented Wizards team and, hopefully for the C’s, give LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers a tough test in the conference finals.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images