Why the Boston Celtics are virtually unbeatable when this X factor is on

Joe Mazzulla
Joe Mazzulla / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

Grizzled veterans deserve praise and one Boston Celtic truly deserves his due after the team’s past few series. Performances from players like Jayson Tatum, Jrue Holiday, and Jaylen Brown have the C’s knocking at the door of the NBA Finals, and while the stars have had their time to shine, Al Horford has stepped up at a critical juncture with Boston somewhat shorthanded. When he's on, there are very few teams that can beat the Celtics.

Horford dropped 23 points with the help of seven made three-pointers in the Celtics dramatic 114-111 Game 3 win over the Pacers Saturday. The 37-year-old's seven treys were tied for fourth most in an Eastern Conference Finals game, and he’s the oldest player to ever drill seven triples in a playoff game.

Boston trailed by as many as 18 points, and Horford was a main reason why they were able to come back. In addition to his 23 points and efficient three-point shooting, the five-time All-Star also grabbed five rebounds and recorded three blocks.

“For me, I’ve been very blessed to still be in this position,” Horford told reporters, after Game 2. “To still play at this type of level. To be a part of a team like the Celtics. Really making sure that I’m doing everything I can to contribute to the team. I’m grateful for the opportunity. It is pretty unique. It’s pretty special.”

Why the Boston Celtics are virtually unbeatable when Al Horford is on.

It was not the first time this postseason that Horford has come up big for the Celtics. Kristaps Porzingis has been out due to a calf injury since the opening round series against the Miami Heat and did not play in the second round against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Horford has had to take on an enhanced amount of responsibility as a result, and while this is not uncharted territory for the big man, but given he’s in the 17th year of his NBA career, it would have been fair to wonder if he’d be able to keep up with another long playoff run.

During the tournament, Horford has averaged 27.9 minutes per game- the second smallest count of his NBA playoff career. Interestingly though, he’s averaged a career-high in playoff three-point attempts.

Celtics head coach joe Mazulla has used Xaiver Tillman in spurts when Horford has needed a break, but it seems as though Horford has made the most of his time on the court by playing smart defense and spacing the floor on offense in a fashion that won’t have him winded by the whistle.

If Al Horford is hitting shots from range and helping on the defensive end, Boston is very hard to beat. If Kristaps Porzingis returns and Horford continues to play like he has against the Pacers, they’ll be virtually unstoppable.