It’s closest 38-year-old Al Horford has come to an NBA title, with Celtics on verge of their 18th

DALLAS (AP) — Al Horford has never been this close to an NBA championship.

With Boston on the verge of an unprecedented 18th title, the 38-year-old Horford could finally get his first as soon as Friday night when the Celtics have a chance to sweep the Dallas Mavericks. The game will be the center’s 185th in the playoffs.

“Really want to get this one for him,” Celtics forward Sam Hauser said. “It’s like the one thing that he just hasn’t been able to get yet in his career, and it’ll be pretty special if we can do it for him.”

Horford’s teams have made the playoffs in 15 of his 17 NBA seasons. The only other time he was in the NBA Finals was two years ago in his return to Boston, when he was already the Celtics’ oldest player. They lost in six games to Golden State.

While he has heard the “Win it for Al” talk, Horford knows another Celtics championship would be about more than just him.

“It’s a team sport,” Horford said. “When you are fortunate enough to play for the Boston Celtics, you quickly realize that it’s more than just the team that you’re representing and the things that you’re trying to do.”

Still, the only player with more career postseason games than Horford without an NBA title is Karl Malone, the Hall of Fame power forward whose 193 came while making the playoffs in all 19 of his seasons — 18 with Utah and his final one with the Los Angeles Lakers from 1986-2004.

In Game 1 of these NBA Finals, Horford matched the 182 playoff games for John Stockton, another Hall of Fame player without a title. Stockton’s entire 19-season career was with the Jazz, with only his rookie year being without Malone as a teammate.

“For me, being in this opportunity, I give the glory to the Lord because he’s put me in this position, and for me, I know that it’s more than me,” Horford said. “We have a lot of fans. We have a lot of people. They have been waiting for this opportunity, for these moments. We’ve been through a lot of adversity as a team these past few years. To be at the cusp of doing this, it’s something special.”

Horford certainly isn’t just along for the ride in these playoffs, even if it ends up being his last one. He does have another season left on his contract, but he could decide to go out on top if the Celtics win the title.

Horford has started Boston’s last 13 games, his longest streak of consecutive starts this season coming since 7-foot-2 center-forward Kristaps Porzingis strained his right calf in the first round against Miami.

The 6-9 Horford stayed in the starting lineup even after Porzingis returned from a 10-game absence for the NBA Finals, though the younger post played only the first two games before a rare tendon injury in Porzingis’ his lower left leg kept him out of Game 3 and had him questionable for Game 4.

Horford averaged 8.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 26.8 minutes in 65 regular-season games, including 33 starts. All of his averages are up in the playoffs — 9.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 30.6 minutes.

“Al is just a true professional,” Hauser said. “He’s seen a lot in this league. He’s a guy you can lean on for advice. He’s seen everything you can see.”

Atlanta drafted Horford third overall in 2007 when he was coming off back-to-back NCAA championships at Florida. He played nine years with the Hawks before going to Boston in free agency for three seasons and two Eastern Conference finals, then signed with Philadelphia when a free agent again. The five-time All-Star later got traded to Oklahoma City, and was dealt back to the Celtics three summers ago.

One more win and Horford can finally be called an NBA champion.

“I know that would be extremely exciting for him to notch that on his belt,” said Xavier Tillman Sr., the young post who in Game 3 made his NBA Finals debut backing up Horford. “But I know just like anybody else, his biggest thing is getting the job done and not overlooking it. I know he’s excited for another opportunity. I’m excited to be able to go to battle with him and to give it all we got.”



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