Gators in NBA: Horford working to add league title to accomplishments

Boston center Al Horford shoots during warms-ups before Game 4 of the NBA first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Sunday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS — Al Horford sat at his locker shortly after the Boston Celtics swept the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.

His feet were in a tub of cold water. Ice bags were on both knees.

More than 12 years ago, in 2007, Horford helped lead the Florida Gators to the second of back-to-back NCAA Championships. Now at 32, the five-time NBA All-Star forward remains driven in his quest for his first NBA title ring.

Horford put in another workmanlike performance for the Celtics in their series-clinching win Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds, overcoming a 4-of-19 day shooting to impact the game in other areas. The Celtics were plus-10 in Horford’s 33 minutes on the floor.

Horford was one of seven Celtics who scored in double figures, as Boston is trying to break through after reaching the NBA Eastern Conference finals in each of the last two seasons.

“It’s encouraging to see our group come together, especially this time of the year,” Horford said. “I think we all understand what’s in front of us and what we need to do. It’s just been nice to really see everyone really embrace and try to make the most of it.”

To accomplish that feat, Horford has maintained a disciplined regimen to keep in peak playing condition. He rode the stationary bike for about 10 minutes before taking part in pregame warmups. There are constant trips to the training room, before and after games, to get treatment for various minor ailments.

“It’s really the lifestyle,” Horford said. “Trying to eat well, taking care of my body, which means doing a lot of treatment, continually making sure that I’m working out. Just trying to lead a healthy lifestyle and I think that has made the biggest difference for me, the reason why I still feel like I’m playing at a high level, even 12 years in the league.”

Horford has needed to stay nimble to keep pace with the 20-something explosive athletes that funnel into NBA rosters season after season. It’s common to find Horford having to switch out to defend guards on the perimeter. Horford earned second-team, All-NBA defensive honors last season. This season, Horford’s defensive rating of 140 is near the top among NBA big men.

“He’s really good at the point of attack,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “The 3 that (Pacers forward Bojan) Bogdanovic hit on him in game 2 was a great shot, the very next day he crowded him and made him do something else. He’s a smart player. You’re not going to get Al twice on the same thing and he’s a guy who knows how to use his length, knows how to use his speed …

“His versatility has been a huge key to our success the last three years.”

Offensively, Horford has extended his shooting range out of the 3-point line. In Game 3 of the series Friday night, Horford made a key 3-pointer down the stretch in Boston’s 104-96 win over the Pacers.

Horford said he still keeps in touch with his former Gator teammates, including Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah, who finished this season with the Memphis Grizzlies. Horford said he still follows the Gators as well and was proud of how they finished the season to make the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year.

“When it meant the most, they put together great performances, especially in the SEC Tournament, to solidify and get into the NCAA Tournament,” Horford said. “Just proud of what Mike White has been able to do and the culture he’s been establishing there. I just think they need to continue to get players and continue to buy into what he’s got going over there.”