Monday, June 17, 2024
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Celtics vs. Pacers: Al Horford continues to defy age with record-setting 3-point performance

As LeBron James, and to a lesser degree Stephen Curry, have become the marquee faces of the NBA’s unprecedented longevity movement, Al Horford, in his 17th season and barely a week out from his 38th birthday, is quietly rolling along as his own sort of ageless wonder for a Boston Celtics team that is one victory short of a second NBA Finals appearance in the last three years. 

The Celtics rallied from an 18-point deficit to defeat the Indiana Pacers, 114-111, on Saturday night to take a 3-0 lead in the the Eastern Conference finals, and it was Horford that led the way from deep with a career-high seven 3-pointers, including a massive corner bucket off a gorgeous behind-the-back assist from Jayson Tatum that felt like the biggest shot of the game.  

“We always talk about spacing, making sure we’re in the right spots. I trusted that he was going to be there, he trusted that I was going to make the right read,” Tatum said of the connection. “That was a hell of a shot that he made.”

That shot cut Indiana’s lead — which was hovering in the two- to three-possession range for the bulk of the fourth quarter — to two. Prior to that, it felt like Boston was doing the stay-afloat thing more than making a move to get over the hump. When Horford splashed that 3, Indiana was in trouble. 

A little more than 30 seconds later, Jrue Holiday finished a layup plus the foul for an old-fashioned 3-point play and Boston, which could very easily, and perhaps should, be down 2-1 in this series, went on top for good. 

Horford’s seven 3s nearly matched the total of the rest of the Celtics combined (nine). He personally out-shot Indiana from beyond the arc (7-5). Prior to Saturday, Horford had made six 3s in a game six times in 1,257 career games including the playoffs. He hit six against Cleveland in the closeout game two weeks ago. He made six against the Warriors in Game 1 of the 2022 Finals. 

“Whatever he does, whether it’s his leadership, his presence, hitting shots, protecting the rim – he’s a guy that keeps us all together,” Tatum said of Horford, who finished with 23 points on 14 shots with five boards, three blocks and a steal. 

In the absence of Kristaps Porzingis, Horford has done his best to replace the spacing loss with 16 made 3s over the last four playoff games. The guys runs the pick-and-pop in his sleep, and with all the downhill attention Boston’s drivers command, that shot is almost always open. 

Tatum assisted on five of Horford’s 3s, three of them by simply coming off the ball screen and dragging two defenders into the paint as big Al spotted up in the vacated expanse of space left behind. 

Horford, who is now the oldest player in NBA history to make seven 3s in a playoff game, is not the player he once was, but he remains a highly effective defender and offensive connector who can hurt you from 3 on any given night as you scramble to keep up with all of Boston’s scorers, as Indiana and the Cavs have both found out in these playoffs. 

“I’ve been very blessed to still be in this position, to be able to play at this type of level, to be part of a team like the Celtics,” Horford said. “I’m really making sure that I’m doing everything I can to contribute to the team. … This position that I’m in right now, it’s pretty unique. I’m very grateful for it.”

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