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Al Horford’s ‘Elite’ Shooting Boosts Celtics in Game 3

PHILADELPHIA — When 3-point shooters lose their outside touch and can’t get 3s to fall consistently amidst a slump, it rarely deters them from shooting because the rule of average suggests a hot streak is on the horizon. Celtics center Al Horford is no exception to this rule, and the numbers don’t lie.

Coming off the best shooting campaign of his career, Horford entered the postseason shooting at a 44.6% clip, trailing only Los Angles Clippers forward Luke Kennard (44.7%) for the regular season’s best 3-point shooting percentage in the league. But, he connected on only 2-of-12 from deep in the first two games of the Celtics’ best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers before draining 5-for-7 from behind the arc in Boston’s 114-102 win in Game 3.

Horford finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, and two steals. At shootaround, before Al’s big performance, he was asked how he could get himself out of the slump.

“Not much, differently,” Horford replied. “I’m still getting good looks. And I’ll continue to shoot them. Even throughout the season, I went through ups and downs; that’s just a part of it when you’re an elite shooter. You’re going to get them up.”

A reporter laughed out loud before Horford looked up and smiled.

“You laughed. You don’t think I’m an elite shooter?” Horford asked. “My numbers don’t support it?”

For some, because of his size, it’s easy to forget Al’s elite 3-point accuracy. Still, for the Celtics, a team that’s leaned on Horford’s outside touch all season, it’s a big piece to their offense — one that’s found its stride down the stretch this series ever since losing to James Harden‘s 52-point performance in Game 1 at TD Garden.

“Whoever laughed at him earlier, shame on you,” Jayson Tatum replied after Friday’s win when asked if he considers Horford, an elite shooter. “Al is definitely an elite shooter, and he’s been that and proven that. And he’s so important to what we’re trying to accomplish as a team, how he’s transitioned his game from earlier in his career to now — being a knock-down shooter, being somebody that really makes our offense special. You got me out there. You got JB, but the thing that really helps us is Al being able to space the floor. You got to worry about us getting to the basket.

“If you want to come help, we got shooters all around, and Al takes big shots and makes big shots. I got all the trust in the world in Al whenever he’s out there, whenever he’s shooting.”

With a 2-1 lead, Boston is now in control against the league’s Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid and the Sixers. Embiid, who received his MVP trophy from commissioner Adam Silver in a pregame ceremony in front of Philly’s home crowd at Wells Fargo Center, was moved to tears when he embraced his son at center court.

Then, Embiid led his team with 30 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks but succumbed to Jayson Tatum’s last seven points in the game’s final three minutes, where Tatum outscored the Sixers to complete his 27-point bounce-back performance after finishing with seven points in Game 2.

“We were locked in,” Horford said postgame. “We knew what we had to do.”

Celtics will now look to grab a commanding 3-1 lead in Game 4 on Sunday.

Josue Pavon

Celtics Reporter

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