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Al Horford uses 76ers fans’ hatred to fuel monster Celtics comeback: ‘that kind of got me going’

The Celtics big man returned to Philadelphia to squash the hopes of his former team.

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Back in 2018, Joel Embiid was asked about the rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. His response immediately went viral. “It’s not a rivalry,” Embiid said. “The always kick our a%#.”

In what seemed like a response to their struggles against Boston, Philadelphia signed Horford away from the Celtics in the summer of 2019. Unfortunately for the 76ers, the fit didn’t work out, and the relationship between Horford and the city quickly soured. He was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder after just one year with the team before ending up back in Boston and after watching Horford fuel a comeback in Philly last night, you’d have to say that the rivalry, despite what Embiid says, is alive and well.

Cheers rained down throughout Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night as the 76ers leaped out to a 15-point lead over the Celtics. But the cheers quickly turned to jeers as Horford single-handedly dismantled Philadelphia’s lead in the third quarter, draining four threes in the span of three minutes.

“I like it,” Horford said when asked about the crowd’s constant trash talk. “I take it as respect. I wasn’t having my best game offensively [and] I feel like that kind of got me going.”

At one point, Horford hit a three in the corner and immediately turned to some fans sitting courtside. As he was running back on defense, the usually mild-mannered big man was talking smack with a big grin on his face.

Instead of getting mad, Horford used the jeers to get even, almost as if his less-than-stellar experience in Philadelphia fuels him to take the 76ers down any chance he gets. And with 15 points on five made threes, all of which coming at crucial points in Boston’s win, Horford made sure to get the last laugh this time around.

“Man, Al was huge, right?” said Celtics star Jayson Tatum. “He’s the reason why we came back in the game. We were down 15, I don’t think he had scored yet, and I think he hit four threes in that third quarter and catapult[ed] that run to go up to start the fourth.”

Horford’s big-time third quarter elevated Boston at a time when it looked as though all hope was lost. Tatum’s struggles (7-of-17 on the night) had contributed to a 15-point third-quarter lead for Philadelphia, but just when it seemed like the 76ers were ready to put a bow on the game, they eased up.

“We relaxed,” Joel Embiid explained. “Al made a couple of huge threes. And Tatum got, he got a little bit going in that third quarter, too. Before that, he was not very good. And obviously, being up 15, I felt like we just relaxed.”

As the driving force behind Boston’s comeback, Horford’s run shot a bolt of energy through the entire Celtics roster. Down 13 in the third quarter, three Horford triples helped cut the lead to four in the blink of an eye. They were part of a 43-18 Boston run that saw the game flip on its head.

His energy was clear as day, running up and down the court with a swagger similar to the one he played with in last year’s postseason. But despite the extra punch he brought to this game, Horford still denied having any extra oomph playing the 76ers. However, he couldn’t help but let a subtle grin slip through whilst maintaining his consistently cool composure.

“Not extra motivation. It’s just fun,” Horford said. “It’s a fun environment. And they’re a really good team, and these are the type of games that you want to be a part of.”

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