SAN FRANCISCO – The Boston Celtics’ Al Horford Center doesn’t have the prettiest shooting form, but the end results should be respected.
Golden State Warriors should have a new level of respect for the distance a 15-year-old veteran can shoot. Horford was one of Game 1 champions in the NBA Finalsproducing a 26 team high point and firing 6-of-8 from outside the arc to lead the Celtics to a 120-108 victory Thursday.
The 3-point weapon he had was not always in his arsenal. In fact, the big guy said he never wanted to be a part of his game. Had to be pushed into the possibility, the push began early in his second year in the league by former Atlanta Hawks general manager Rick Sund, now the Hawks’ chief basketball operations advisor.
“Rick is the one who said to me, ‘Man, you have a really good midrange. You should start shooting three-corners, that will help extend your career,” Horford told Yahoo Sports as he was leaving Chase Center after training on Saturday. “I used to be low noise and post. He said, ‘Man, you’re not going to be in this league if you keep playing like this.’” Rick Sund was the first to tell me.”
This conversation took place during the 2008-09 season, long before today’s analytical trend gave most players the go-ahead to raise the Triple Pointers.
Sund saw something in Horford that many had not yet realized.
“I remember our conversation well. We were discussing whether it would be more suitable for being a four-man or five-man,” Sund told Yahoo Sports by phone. I told him to work on that third corner and he would really be five effective guys. I also told him he’d have a great opportunity to make the All-Star a five-star stretch. That’s exactly what I saw.”
Horford said he understood where Sunde came from, but was reluctant to add the three ball due to how it was perceived by fans, teammates and opponents.
“When I got into the league, I never envisioned shooting the triple. “I was definitely on point at times when I started trying to play three in games,” Horford told Yahoo Sports. “Players start looking at you like crazy. You know how we’re in the league, like, “Hell, nah. He’s trying to shoot triples? So that was the kind of thing you had to deal with.”
Horford saw firsthand the reaction of the Hawks fans when fellow front courthouse Josh Smith – who was a 28.5% off 3-point professional running back – allowed threes to fly to the fan’s displeasure and moan when he was released. It took Horford time to fully embrace the idea.
In his first eight seasons, he launched a total of 65 triples. During his ninth season, he stuck with it and was 88 of 256 for a respectable 34.4%. Throughout that season, he wasn’t confident with his shot, but praised his former teammates for building his confidence.
“My teammates were very surprised when I started shooting them, but two of the influencing factors for me are Kyle Korver and Pero Antique,” Horford told Yahoo Sports. “Both players encouraged me to shoot the ball. Anytime I filmed it in the match and looked at them to see their reaction, they were very supportive and comfortable with me shooting. So for me mentally, that was a huge problem.”
Sund said current Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer deserves some credit.
“When Budd came to Atlanta, he was more open to thinking outside the box and also encouraged Al to shoot triples and the rest is history,” Sund told Yahoo Sports. “Every player Bud coaches is playing a lot better than when Bud wasn’t around. Look at Pat Connaughton in Milwaukee, Paul Millsap with us, and Khris Middleton. He did it with Al too.”
After the Celtics defeated the Miami Heat and Horford – who has shot 46.3% from the furthest from the arc this post-season – advanced to the Finals for the first time in his careerBefore doing so, he received a text message from an individual who believed in his skills.
“I was so happy for him. I sent him my congratulations and just told him how proud I am of what he has accomplished,” Sund told Yahoo Sports. “What people don’t realize is that he hasn’t had the ball in his hands for a long time. He’s not a ball stopper. He’s always moving and then moving, which is a rarity for a big guy. He’s a five-man version of Steve [Curry]. Because it is not a ball stopper, it allows it to open the floor to others. It’s just a great strength for any team. I’m happy to see him succeed.”
Before Horford hopped on the bus to get off the track, he had a parting message.
“Rick was right. I think I gained extra years by adding the 3-point shot,” Horford told Yahoo Sports. “I’m just grateful.”