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Celtics beat reporter's notebook I Adam Himmelsbach

‘You don’t think I’m an elite shooter?’ Why Al Horford was extra motivated for Game 3

Al Horford's 44.6 3-point percentage during the regular season ranked second in the NBA.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

PHILADELPHIA — Celtics forward Al Horford seeks motivation wherever he can find it, and sometimes it comes from real or perceived slights.

During the Celtics’ shootaround Friday morning prior to Game 3 of their second-round series against the 76ers, Horford was asked about his mild shooting slump. The veteran, whose 44.6 3-point percentage ranked second in the NBA during the regular season, was just 5 for 23 over the last five playoff games.

Horford made it clear he was confident he would bounce back soon.

“Even throughout the season, I went through ups and downs,” he said. “That’s just a part of it when you’re, when you’re, when you’re an elite shooter, you know, you’re going to get them up.”


Horford was straightfaced during most of his answer, built up to his closing line by repeating it a few times, and then flashed a wry grin when he called himself an elite shooter.

Horford was one of the best 3-point shooters in the league this season, but he took a total of 65 3-pointers over his first eight seasons, shot 33.6 percent from beyond the arc last season, and will never be confused with Stephen Curry. His smile seemed to connote an appropriate mix of swagger and self-awareness.

Several of us in the assembled media horde smiled or lightly chuckled. But in the back of the pack, a Boston television reporter laughed more forcefully. Horford seemed to dislike that.

“You’re laughing?” he said, smiling but sounding annoyed. “You don’t think I’m an elite shooter?”

“I do,” the reporter said.

“My numbers don’t support it?” Horford said, digging in a bit more.

“They do.”

“Hey, you know, we go through walls,” Horford said. “So, just staying confident and ready to go.”

He stared at the reporter for a moment afterward. It wasn’t icy, but it wasn’t comfortable, either. And just like that, Horford had found some new fuel, even if it had arrived accidentally and, quite honestly, rather harmlessly.


Horford poured in 5 of 7 3-pointers and scored 17 points during the Celtics 114-102 win that gave them a 2-1 series lead, and afterward, it was clear that the entire roster was well aware of Horford’s shootaround interaction.

As coach Joe Mazzulla went around the locker room and shouted out individual performances, he looked at Horford and offered a not-so-subtle nod to his morning.

“Al,” he said, “you’re an elite shooter.”

When star forward Jayson Tatum was asked about Horford’s performance, he started his answer by saying, “Yeah, whoever laughed at him earlier, shame on you.”

The Celtics’ social media team on Saturday even created a highlight video splicing Horford’s shootaround comments with his highlights from the game. It all turned into a thing.

On Saturday afternoon, I asked Horford for his perception of the interaction, how it had motivated him, and what he thought of the ensuing reaction.

“I just thought it was funny,” he said. “It got kind of carried away. It really has carried a lot. I’m hearing from a lot of people I haven’t heard from in a while sending me things about it. It is what it is.”

So, I asked Horford, you weren’t annoyed? You seemed annoyed. And your teammates seemed to think you used the possible slight as motivation.

“I mean, we’re just trying to keep it light, man,” Horford said. “I’m excited for this opportunity that we have. And, yeah.”


With Horford, canned answers like that one are usually an indication that he’s had just about enough of a topic. So I asked him if he’d had enough of the topic. He was almost done, but not quite.

“I mean, no, the reality is that I am [an elite shooter],” he said. “So, that’s kind of that.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.