Here’s why Celtic Al Horford were highly motivated to put in an ‘elite’ shooting performance in Game 3 against the 76ers

“Even throughout the season I went through ups and downs,” he said. “It’s just part of that when you’re, when you’re, when you’re a sniper, you know, you’re going to bring them up.”

Horford was deadpan for most of his response, building to his last line by repeating it several times, then flashing a wry smile when he called himself a sniper.

Horford was one of the best 3-point shooters in the league this season, but he took a total of 65 3-pointers in his first eight seasons, shot 33.6% from beyond the arc the season last 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 laughed a little. But at the back of the pack, a Boston television reporter laughed louder. Horford didn’t seem to like it.

“You laugh ?” he said smiling but sounding annoyed. “You don’t think I’m a sniper?”

“Yes,” said the reporter.

“My numbers don’t support it?” Horford said, digging deeper.

“They do.”

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

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

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

As coach Joe Mazzulla circled 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 a sharpshooter.”

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

On Saturday, the Celtics’ social media team even created a highlights video pairing Horford’s shooting comments with his game highlights. Everything has become one thing.

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

“I just thought it was funny,” he said. “It got a bit carried away. He really carried a lot. I hear a lot of people I haven’t heard from in a while sending me things about it. It’s like that.”

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

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

With Horford, canned responses like that usually indicate that he’s had enough of a subject. So I asked him if he had had enough of the subject. He was almost done, but not quite.

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

Adam Himmelsbach can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.

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