August 16, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO — Boston Celtics center Al Horford doesn’t have the best shooting form, but the end results have to be respected.

The Golden State Warriors should have a new level of respect for how far the 15-year-old veteran can throw him. Horford was one of the heroes in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, producing a team-high 26 points and shooting 6 of 8 from beyond the arc to lead the Celtics to a 120-108 win on Thursday .

But the 3-point weapon he owns hasn’t always been part of his arsenal. In fact, the big man said he never wanted it to be part of his game.

He had to be nudged at that possibility, and the nudging began in his second year in the league by former Atlanta Hawks general manager Rick Sund, who is now the senior basketball operations advisor for the Hawks.

“Rick is the one who said to me, ‘Man, you’ve got a really good midrange. You should start shooting three corners, it will help prolong your career,” Horford told Yahoo Sports as he left Chase Center after practice on Saturday. “I used to be a low banger and post. He was like, ‘Man, you’re not gonna last 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 the current analytical streak of most players was given the green light to hoist the 3-pointer.

Sund saw something in Horford that many had yet to realize.

“I remember our conversation very well. We were discussing whether he would be more suitable as a four or a five,” Sund told Yahoo Sports by phone. “I believed and relayed that it would be to his advantage to become a stretch-five and get the guys off the basket. I told him to work on that corner three and he would be a really good five. I also told him he would have a great opportunity to make the All-Star as a stretch-five. That’s exactly what I saw.

Boston Celtics center Al Horford shoots against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center in San Francisco on June 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Horford said he understands where Sund is coming from, but was reluctant to add 3-ball due to how it would be viewed by fans, teammates and the opposition.

“Coming into the league, I never imagined shooting 3-ball. I was definitely nervous at times when I started trying three-ball games,” Horford told Yahoo Sports. start looking at you like crazy. You know how we are in the league, like, ‘Hell nah. He’s trying to shoot three? So it was that kind of stuff that you had to deal with.

Horford saw the reaction of Hawks fans up close when teammate Josh Smith — who was a career 28.5 percent 3-point shooter — let all three fly to the chagrin and groans of fans as he walked out. It took time for Horford to fully embrace the idea.

In his first eight seasons, he shot a total of 65 triples. In his ninth season, he committed to it and was 88 of 256 for a respectable 34.4%. Throughout this season, he was still not confident in his shooting, but he credited two former teammates for boosting his confidence.

“My teammates were very surprised when I started filming them, but two big influences for me were Kyle Korver and Pero Antic,” Horford told Yahoo Sports. “Both guys encouraged me to throw the ball. And every time I kicked it in the game and watched them to see their reaction, they were very supportive and comfortable with me. So mentally for me it was a big problem.

Sund said current Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer deserves some credit.

“When Bud came to Atlanta, he was more open to thinking outside the box, and he also encouraged Al to shoot threesomes and the rest is history,” Sund told Yahoo Sports. “Every player Bud coaches is playing so much better than when Bud wasn’t there. Watch Pat Connaughton in Milwaukee, Paul Millsap with us, Khris Middleton. He did it with Al too.

After the Celtics knocked out the Miami Heat and Horford — who is shooting 46.3% from beyond the arc this playoff — advanced to the Finals for the first time in his career, he received a text message from ‘a person who believed in his skills before him. .

“I was so happy for him. I sent him a congratulatory message and just told him how proud I am of what he’s accomplishing,” Sund told Yahoo Sports. “What people don’t don’t realize is that he doesn’t have the ball in his hands for long. It’s not a stopper. He makes him move and then he always moves, which is rare for a big man. It’s a five-way version of Steph [Curry]. Because he is not a ball blocker, it allows him to open the floor to everyone. He’s just a great asset to any team. I’m glad to see him succeed. »

Before Horford jumped on the bus to leave the arena, he had a goodbye message.

“Rick was right. I think I gained extra years by adding 3-point shooting,” Horford told Yahoo Sports. “I’m just grateful.”