Motivated Al Horford could be key for Celtics in pivotal Game 3 vs. 76ers

Forsberg: Motivated Horford could be key for Celtics in Game 3 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

PHILADELPHIA — Al Horford finished second in the NBA in 3-point percentage this season but his shot has defied him to start the postseason.

Horford’s 3-point percentage has plummeted from 44.6 percent during the regular season to 29.7 percent to start Boston’s playoff run. He missed seven of the eight 3-pointers he attempted in Wednesday’s lopsided Game 2 victory and is 7-for-29 from beyond the arc over his last five games.

At Celtics shootaround on Friday morning, after a lengthy shooting session on the court at the Wells Fargo Center, Horford was explaining his slump when he noted, "That's just part of it when you’re an elite shooter. You gotta get them up.”

A reporter from a Boston TV station laughed at Horford’s suggestion.

“You’re laughing? You don’t think I’m an elite shooter?” asked a clearly perturbed Horford.

“My numbers don’t support it?” Horford asked again after a pause.

Told that they do, Horford added, “Hey, we go through walls. So just staying confident and ready to go.”

A month shy of his 37th birthday, Horford is getting spicier in his advanced NBA age. Earlier this postseason, after hitting a late-game 3-pointer as the Celtics sealed a win over the Hawks, Horford barked at the Atlanta bench. After the game, he proudly noted how, if an opposing team talks trash, it doesn’t usually end well for them.

Which should make Boston fans feel pretty good about Horford’s potential to bust out of his slump in Philadelphia. The Sixers paid huge money to recruit Horford here after Boston’s disastrous 2018-19 campaign. Horford drew much of the ire when the Sixers struggled and they dealt him to Oklahoma City in December 2020. He’s heard boos in Philly ever since.

Horford has found his fountain of youth back in Boston, even signing a two-year extension in December. His thirst for a championship helped fuel Boston during last year’s playoff run, and he isn’t taking these opportunities for granted after 15 years in the league.

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On Friday night, Horford will be tasked with helping to limit Joel Embiid after he receives his MVP trophy in a pregame ceremony. We suspect we’ll see a highly motivated Horford on both ends. He always seems a little more energetic when the Sixers are on the other side.

Horford could be key in helping Boston maintain their defensive success from Game 3, particularly if Embiid is closer to his normal self after shaking some rust in Boston.

Horford needs to make Embiid pay on the other end if he doesn’t come out to defend him at the 3-point line. Embiid will want to stay planted near the basket and avoid chasing Horford out to the line. But a few makes could force the Sixers’ hands.

Horford won’t be bashful. That’s just part of being an elite shooter.