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Inside the celebratory mayhem on the FTX Arena court after the Celtics beat the Heat to advance

Celtics owners Steve Pagliuca (left) and Wyc Grousbeck hoisted the Bob Cousy Trophy, emblematic of the Eastern Conference championship.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

MIAMI — Shortly after the final buzzer sounded Sunday evening, Celtics forward Al Horford collapsed to his knees, rested his forearms on the court at FTX Arena, and clenched his fists.

“Yes!” he shouted. “Yes!”

Horford had already jumped up and down with his teammates at halfcourt, but he briefly stepped away from the mayhem to take a moment to himself. The Celtics had just staved off a late run from the top-seeded Miami Heat in Game 7 and clinched a trip to the NBA Finals — their first since 2010, and Horford’s first ever.

“I just didn’t know how to act,” the 15-year pro said. “Just got caught up and excited.”


Horford, who turns 36 Friday, is certainly familiar with the postseason. His teams have advanced to the playoffs 13 times, but reaching the last stage, with a chance to compete for a championship? That’s new territory.

Al Horford is headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in his career.Andy Lyons/Getty

So an emotional Horford soaked in the achievement for about 10 seconds on his own before getting back on his feet. Eager to greet him was two-way player Matt Ryan, ready with a warm embrace. Then came Derrick White and Aaron Nesmith. Nobody was going to leave the court without coming over to Horford.

Jaylen Brown’s thoughts after the game likely spoke for the entire team.

“Nobody deserves it more than this guy,” Brown said. “His energy, his demeanor, coming in every day, being a professional, taking care of his body, being a leader. I’m proud to be able to share this moment with a veteran, a mentor, a brother, a guy like Al Horford.”

After blowing an opportunity to punch their ticket to the Finals on their home floor Friday night, the Celtics nearly bungled their second chance two days later. But Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler’s go-ahead 3-point attempt — contested by Horford — clanked off the front rim with 16.6 seconds remaining, preserving Boston’s victory and title hopes.


There were plenty of hugs to go around at FTX Arena, as president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, president Rich Gotham, and co-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca all joined the players and coaches on the court. So did some select friends and family, including Jayson Tatum’s mother, Jaylen Brown’s mother, and Horford’s father.

With the majority of the crowd headed for the exits, the smattering of Celtics fans in attendance made their way to the bottom of the lower bowl, eventually breaking out in a “Let’s go Celtics!” chant. Tatum, the inaugural winner of the Larry Bird Trophy as Eastern finals MVP, couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. Heat guard Max Strus, who spent training camp in Boston in 2019, stuck around to congratulate several of his former teammates, clad in their new “Eastern Conference champion” T-shirts.

Jayson Tatum celebrates with his teammates after being awarded the Eastern Conference Larry Bird MVP trophy after Sunday's game.Andy Lyons/Getty

For the Celtics, the series-clinching win extended their wildly impressive season turnaround, one that started in late January when they were 11th in the East.

For Horford, it snapped a streak he so desperately wanted to end. Sunday marked the 141st playoff game of his career, the most by a player in NBA history without a trip to the Finals. The count stops there.

“I’m really grateful to be in this position,” Horford said. “I’ve been a part of a lot of great teams, a lot of great teammates, and I’m so proud of this group.”


When it was time to present the Celtics with the Bob Cousy Trophy as Eastern Conference champs, Horford was the first player to receive the hardware. His teammates cheered, though no one seemed more proud than his father Tito, who has followed him through every step of the postseason.

“I’m so excited,” said Tito, also sporting the new hat and T-shirt. “He’s been in the league 15 years. He’s been so close in the past. I was hoping and praying that he would make it to the Finals. That’s been his goal. That’s been his dream.”

Horford being a key contributor on a Finals-bound team is all the more meaningful given his past two seasons. In 2019, he signed a big contract with the Philadelphia 76ers only for the team to implode. In 2020, he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder and didn’t suit up for the final two months of the season.

Stevens still believed in his former player, though. His first move after getting promoted from coach to executive was to acquire Horford in exchange for point guard Kemba Walker, a first-round draft pick, and a 2025 second-rounder. Both Horford and his father were thrilled at the time — and, obviously, even more so now.

“His heart has always belonged to the Celtics,” Tito said. “His heart was with the Celtics the entire time. I’m so glad that he came back.”

Al Horford, seen here blocking a shot attempt from Miami's P.J. Tucker during Sunday's Game 7, turns 36 later this week.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

As the celebration continued Monday night, Tito stayed on the court, interacting with the lingering Celtics fans and grinning from ear to ear. Horford, meanwhile, was in the locker room, where there was no shortage of water-bottle showers.


They both know what’s next, but for now, they rejoice.

“Four more, baby,” Tito said. “I know it’s going to be hard, but he’s in the Finals and he has a chance.”

Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.