Totally amazing: Al Horford talks coming off Celtics bench for betterment of team

Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) and forward Jaylen Brown (7) celebrate after the Celtics beat the Miami Heat 104-103 during Game 6 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals, Saturday, May 27, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)AP

BOSTON — When Al Horford was traded to the Celtics for his second stint with the team, there were questions on how much quality basketball was still left in his career. He didn’t play much for the Thunder amid a youth movement, so a starting spot wasn’t necessarily guaranteed. Horford himself thought he was still a starter in the league and made that known ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Circumstances are different with this Celtics team as they employ a significant amount of depth. Boston’s top-6 players are arguably the best in the NBA, but at least one of them has to come off the bench. Horford knows that, which is why there isn’t much resistance from anyone about being a starter or not.

“We have a lot of depth; we have a lot of talented players,” Horford said. “One of our strengths is our versatility as a team. So there’s going to be times that we’re going to have to go a certain way. There’s other times that we got to play big, play small, things like that. That’s just the way it is.”

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Horford came off the bench in the Celtics’ preseason win over the Knicks earlier this week. When he did see the court, the 37-year-old looked spry, whether it was affecting the game or pushing the pace. Horford said there isn’t much difference in preparation as he’s bound to see consistent minutes when he is suited up for games.

The Celtics have also talked at length about sacrifice this season, whether that’s Horford or anyone else. Since they have so much talent, counting stats will dip for some players. C’s coach Joe Mazzulla has also resisted to getting too into the weeds when it comes to starting vs. coming off the bench, saying sacrifice will be a big theme for the team throughout the year. But Horford’s willingness to change roles can also be a signal to the rest of the team.

“If Al can come off the bench at this stage of his career, nobody should have anything to say if you’re the guy that’s coming off the bench or Joe takes you out of the game or if you don’t finish,” Jayson Tatum said. “And everybody has to have a team-first mindset to accomplish what we’re trying to do.”

While fans and pundits will focus on the starting lineup, the C’s also pointed out it’s important who finishes games. On the other hand, the regular season is long, so there are bound to be nights where the Celtics aren’t at full strength. That means other players will see the starting lineup regardless.

Next up for the Celtics is the season opener set for next Wednesday against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. First, they’ll get a few more practices in as they round out the rest of the roster.

“I’m in a position right now that I feel like we all can impact the game in a positive way, and sometimes the best thing for a group right now is to play in that way,” Horford said. “There will be times that we’ll play big and we’ll do things like that. But for me, I’m in a good position where I’m at and just staying locked in and ready to go.”

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