PHILADELPHIA — Marcus Smart laughed while watching the video on Friday. It made him laugh to see Al Horford fire back at a TV reporter who dared to laugh after the big man called himself a sniper. But Smart also had another reason to appreciate the interaction. He could feel the edge in Horford’s response. Smart suspected what the exchange would produce.
“I laughed,” said Smart Athleticism. “And then I was like, ‘Ohhh, thank you.’ ‘Cause now you’re about to get sniper Al. I’m telling you. He was due for something, a perfect match, after someone thought he wasn’t a sniper. ‘elite. You’d think (everyone) would know. Al doesn’t say much, but when he does, you better take (his word) on it.
After the Celtics’ 114-102 victory in Game 3, which gave them a 2-1 lead against Philadelphia in a second-round series, Smart watched Horford dressed in camouflage. Acting like a sniper, Smart knelt on the ground and grabbed an imaginary gun. Mimicking the act of repeatedly pulling the trigger, Smart pretended he was hitting a target repeatedly, much like Horford did when he drilled five 3-pointers on his way to 17 points. Before standing up, Smart added sound effects to highlight his performance.
“Bang, bang, baby,” Smart said.
bang bang. That’s how Horford tore his old team apart on Friday night. His final 3-pointer crossed the net with 3:25 left, extending the Celtics’ lead to seven points after Philadelphia slipped to under four. Smart said he could see the 76ers players chickening out immediately after the bucket. They had fought all quarter to reduce a double-digit deficit. They had even forced a miss earlier in possession, but Smart ran the rebound over to Malcolm Brogdon, who eventually sent it back to Horford. The center faked a pass to create space between himself and defender De’Anthony Melton, then launched into the long jump he’s drilled in so many great moments over the years.
“It was huge,” Smart said. ” That was all. You could see it on their faces, when the kick went in, their body language showed that he went in and the kick hurt. Al has been doing this for years. He’s been doing this for us for a very long time, winning us games like this and leading the way for us. That’s what happens when you’re a sniper.
It is no coincidence that Smart used this term.
bang bang. This is how Horford fired back at the reporter earlier today. When Horford smiled calling himself a sniper, the reporter deemed the remark lighthearted and laughed. He thought he was laughing with Horford, not at him, but Horford seemed to take the reaction as an insult. Quickly, he fought the idea that he didn’t deserve the label he gave himself.
“You laugh,” Horford said. “You don’t think I’m a sniper?” My numbers don’t support it? »
Although Horford generally comes across as a buttoned-up veteran, his competitive spirit is as hot as anyone. Once in a while – normally during the playoffs – he unleashes the more aggressive side of his personality. The side that holds back the slights. It can turn a chuckle into motivation. This has kept him motivated enough to remain a key starter in a Championship contending side at 36 and a major contributor to winning teams throughout his career. The ferocity appeared in last season’s playoffs after Giannis Antetokounmpo followed up a big dunk staring down Horford. Nodding several times to Antetokounmpo, Horford let it be known that he didn’t like the gesture. A minute later, Horford passed the double MVP for a thunderous dunk over the foul. He then finished the game with 30 points and a key road victory. Revenge accomplished. In Boston’s first deciding round against Atlanta this season, Horford celebrated a clutch shot with a bit more oomph. He later revealed that someone on the sidelines was talking trash to him.
“There are people you can talk to about trash,” Horford said. “Tell me about trash, it’s probably not good for you.”
The other Celtics are familiar with Horford’s makeup. They still believe in him, but Smart said badness can take him to another level.
“We embrace and attract naysayers,” Smart said. “It gives him another pep to his step. And that will only help us. »
Smart said that Before Horford’s big night. Smart could see it coming. Horford actually missed his first 3-point attempt early in the first quarter, giving it just 2 for 13 long-range tries during the series, but quickly looked for another opportunity. He cashed in that one, then sank another with just 0.3 seconds left in the second quarter to extend the Celtics’ lead to seven points. Horford never missed again. He had all three shots after halftime, each from behind the arc. The former pushed Boston’s lead to 10 points early in the third quarter. The second, later in the same period, came after a run from Philadelphia cut the gap to two runs. Horford’s shot sparked a 14-5 push that sent Boston into the fourth quarter with an 88-77 lead. Horford’s third pointer 3-pointer in the second half cut off the 76ers’ latest threat. After his shot pushed the Celtics to seven points, they led by at least six the rest of the way. In a grimy victory marked by a number of timely shots, Horford sank a bunch.
“I think he definitely takes some things to heart,” Smart said. “I know I do. I think as a competitor you have to take certain things to heart to get that extra fuel.
This series’ opponent could also charge Horford’s battery. After leaving the Celtics to sign a four-year contract with Philadelphia in 2019, Horford had a trying season with the 76ers. During those days, he said later, he vowed to prove all his critics wrong. He could still play at a high level. He could still lift a team. The fit didn’t work out in Philadelphia, but he believed he wasn’t too old or too squeaky at all.
Three years after his last game with the 76ers, Horford continues to prove it. Since the Celtics bought him in June 2021, he has adapted their style of play on both sides of the court. In this series, he spent time guarding MVP Joel Embiid while also switching to assist defender mode when given a different mission. When the Celtics use perimeter players on Embiid instead, Horford needs to know when to rotate the assist and when to double-team. The Celtics have tried to be unpredictable. On a possession, Smart defended Embiid chest-to-chest all over the court, then turned Embiid off as soon as the big man showed up on the block. Horford swooped in to face the match then, but Smart quickly came back to throw a double team at Embiid. The diagrams were complicated.
“We do a lot of different things there,” Horford said.
James Harden beat Horford for a starting bucket late in Game 1, but the Celtics defense has since risen. At the other end of the field, it is crucial for them to have a big man who can take Embiid away from the basket. Horford, who spent years expanding his line and developing a faster version, can now do it as well as anyone his size. He shot 44.6% on 3-point attempts during the regular season, just missing the best percentage in Celtics franchise history (he finished second-best). At midpoint, his outside shot became a weapon, allowing him to age gracefully even as his inside-arc production dwindled. Even after Horford went 1 of 8 from 3-point range in a Game 2 win, Joe Mazzulla cited the number of attempts as a plus for the Celtics.
“Yeah (it’s important against Embiid), but it’s important every series,” Mazzulla said after Game 3. “I like it when Al takes the ball and shoots it with confidence and doesn’t hesitate. We “We need him to be aggressive, confident. He’s an important part of our team, our dressing room, everything. So I think he’s really good looking and I don’t think he’s wavering. That’s good. “
Or, some would say, the elite. The other Celtics took note of the shootout between Horford and the reporter. Mazzulla made sure to use the phrase “sniper” while complimenting Horford during a brief locker room speech after the game. Tatum defended his teammate in an impassioned explanation of how Horford’s jumper unlocks Boston’s offense.
“Whoever laughed at him earlier, shame on you,” Tatum said. “Al is definitely a sniper. He was and has proven that and he’s so important to what we’re trying to accomplish as a team. How he transitioned from his early career game to now, being a knockdown shooter, being someone who really makes a special attack You got me out, you got (Jaylen Brown), but what really helps us is that Al can space the floor You gotta worry we’re going to the basket If you want to come help we have shooters all around and Al takes big shots and hits big shots so I have all the faith in the world in Al whenever he’s there, every time he has the ball, every time he shoots.
It didn’t matter that the reporter’s laugh was actually disrespectful. Horford seemed to take it that way, just like the rest of the Celtics. He was back in Philadelphia, where he had promised himself once that he would not stay indefinitely. Days away from a poor shooting performance, he would bear no perceived doubt about his abilities. Smart, watching the clip of the trade later, could see Horford ready to prove himself again.
“I loved it,” Smart said. “I loved every last bit.”
In a game that promised to change control of the series, Smart trusted what Horford would do next.
“We call it OG for a reason,” Smart said. “He’s always in the right place at the right time, making the right play every time. He’s been doing this for a very long time. »
Grant Williams, Celtics hold 76ers late on Joel Embiid’s MVP night
(Top photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)