Why Al Horford expected Celtics to get to NBA Finals

Almost exactly a year ago, newly appointed Boston Celtics president Brad Stevens took his first step as a front office executive: He brought home Al Horford.

The C’s sent point guard Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for the veteran Big Man, who also played for Boston in 2016-19. The deal was shrouded in uncertainty at the time due to Horford’s age — he turned 35 the following day — but the decision helped the Celtics get over the hump and reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

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From the day he returned to Boston in commerce, Horford knew this group had what it took to contend for an NBA title.

“Once the trade was here and everything was happening, I wrote to Jayson (Tatum) a couple of times and told him I’m looking forward to us being in that position next season,” Horford said Wednesday. “And I really believed that. When I told him that, I looked at our group and saw the potential there. I’ve played with these guys before, I know what they’re about and all I knew was that we were going to get it together, that we were going to have an opportunity, we were going to have an opportunity.

“It’s something I believed in from the start and we just kept at it, just kept working. And of course you won’t talk about those things in the season, but we talked about it before the season. I strongly believed at the time , and then we persevered the whole time, ups and downs, just kept working, kept staying solid. It doesn’t surprise me. I’m really happy, really grateful to be at this point with this group.”

Horford averaged 10.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 blocks in 69 games this season. He averaged 11.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 17 games in the 2022 playoffs.

He will be a key figure for the Celtics as they battle the Golden State Warriors for their first championship since 2008. When he takes the court for Game 1 on Thursday night, he will officially make his first career finals appearance. His 141 non-finalist postseason games is an NBA record.

Game 1 is scheduled for Thursday at 9:00 p.m. ET at the Chase Center. Tune in to NBC Sports Boston for Celtics Pregame Live at 8 p.m.

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