Zolak & Bertrand

Can Celtics find extra motivation in Horford's quest for first title?

Horford is in his 17th NBA season.

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One of the best parts of each championship celebration, regardless of the sport, is watching players finally lift the trophy after a long career of coming up short.

John Elway finally won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos in 1997 in Year 15 of his NFL career, and after losing in the big game three previous times. Ray Bourque won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in the 22nd and final season of his NHL career. It produced one of the greatest title celebration moments of all time.

Al Horford is hoping to have a similar moment after the 2024 NBA Finals.

The Boston Celtics center is returning to basketball's grandest stage for the second time. After losing to the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals, the Celtics will be favored to beat either the Dallas Mavericks or Minnesota Timberwolves this time around.

Horford is in his 17th season, and he'll turn 38 next week (June 3). The Celtics are expected to be a top contender for the foreseeable future, but these opportunities are far from guaranteed.

The Celtics are aware of what's at stake for their beloved teammate.

"I mean, I think there's been an awareness towards just who he is as a person, how he carries himself and how important he is to the organization and the league really since I've been here, and the respect that he has from me, from his teammates, from the organization -- just by who he is and how he plays the game," Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said Wednesday on 98.5 The Sports Hub show Zolak & Bertrand, as seen in the video player above.

"And I think naturally understanding the situation that we're in, the situation that he's in, yeah, there's definitely an awareness to it. I think that's kind of what brings a team closer together around this time: You've got to be able to think about the guy next to you. You've got to stick together and you have to understand that you need the guy next to you in order to win.

"So, it's definitely an awareness to that, but also it's an awareness to the guy next to you for everybody and kind of what it takes to win and how you do it together."

Horford enters the NBA Finals having played 181 career playoff games -- the third-most of any player without winning a championship. He'll pass John Stockton (182) during the Finals for second place. Karl Malone is No. 1 with 193 playoff games without a ring.

Horford is still a quality player, too. This isn't a case of an athlete well past his prime who barely plays. He's averaging 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in the playoffs. He hit a playoff career high seven 3-pointers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

The Celtics don't need any extra motivation to win the NBA Finals. After all, they have been knocking at this door for the last seven years but have yet to break through. But it wouldn't be surprising if Horford's title pursuit does give them a little extra juice.

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