By Gabriel Jason F. Pascual

PHOTO: The Boston Globe

Al Horford savored his first NBA finals after 15 seasons, leading the Boston Celtics’ fourth-quarter comeback by scoring his own 8-0 run to capsize the Golden State Warriors, 120-108, and take the driver’s seat of their best-of-seven series at Chase Center in San Francisco, Friday (PH Time).

Powered by precise shooting and pinpoint ball movement, Horford completed a 17-0 run alongside Derrick White as their three-point barrage put the finishing touches, 117–103.

White and Horford made finals history by becoming the first teammates to make five three-pointers each in their finals debut.

“I always try to play the game the right way, making sure that I’m finding opportunities wherever I can,” said Horford, who topscored the Celtics with 26 points. “I’m just staying shot ready, and my guys found me tonight and I knocked them down.”

Jaylen Brown also anchored the Celtics comeback, scoring 10 straight points to help the Celtics overcome a 14-point deficit and come close within striking distance, 92-94.

Finding the open man at every possession, Boston’s unselfish basketball proved to be their saving grace as Jayson Tatum made up for his 12-point performance by taking most of the playmaking responsibilities and dishing out 13 assists.

With Tatum having a quiet night, White stepped up in the clutch by helping orchestrate the winning run and putting up a solid 21-point performance.

“That’s kind of who we’ve been all year,” said Celtics coach Ime Udoka, pertaining to the comeback. “Tough grinders, [a] resilient group that we can always rely on our defense to kind of buckle down when needed.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Curry was on a tear in the early stages of the game, making finals history in the process by putting up 21 points and six threes–the most in any quarter of the NBA finals.

As Curry carried his hot streak until the third quarter, Andrew Wiggins made strides on both sides of the court, putting up 20 points, while giving problems to Tatum.

Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green orchestrated a defensive clinique late in the third quarter, clogging the passing lanes to prevent easy layups and open threes, extending the Warriors’ lead, 72 – 87.

What led to this moment

As Horford shone in his Finals debut, the path that he took to get there was nothing but easy. Horford was part of a formidable Hawks team but always found himself failing to reach the finals. After nine seasons with Atlanta, Horford put pen to paper and called Boston his new home.

For four seasons, he was a huge contributor to the C’s success, and was even one game away from facing his now opponents, the Warriors, before falling to LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Having failed again to reach the finals with Boston in his four-year stint, Horford signed a big money deal to join the towering Philadelphia 76ers.

This decision proved to be catastrophic as he underperformed during his season with the Sixers and ironically fell to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2020 playoffs.

The 15-year veteran found himself in a situation that seemed like the end of the line for him. Horford was out of place while serving his 14th year with the OKC Thunder in a losing season.

Horford was looked at as a washed, overpaid, old, and slow moving big, with his heydays clearly behind him. In shocking fashion, the Boston Celtics took a chance on Horford as they traded Kemba Walker in exchange for the veteran. This season was Big Al’s reinvention as he reminded the masses of what he was capable of, largely contributing to the Celtics’ regular and postseason run.

Aiming to once again steal the Warriors’ home ground before taking the series to Boston, Horford and the Celtics now await Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Monday, June 6.

Edited by Quian Vencel Galut