Horford Updates Bucket List After Falling to Embiid in Skills Challenge

LOS ANGELES – Al Horford’s participation in the Skills Challenge was short, and not so sweet.

Horford squared off with Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid during the first heat of the challenge to tip off All-Star Saturday Night. He cruised through the first three quarters of the event but hit a screeching halt at the final challenge: the 3-point shot.

After dribbling around five stationary defenders and swishing a pass through a small hole and into a net, Horford dribbled to the other end of the court and dunked a ball home before Embiid was able to toss a pass into his net. Boston’s big man then dribbled back to the other end of the court and took his first 3-point attempt before Embiid made his dunk.

Horford was in control, but he missed three 3-pointers before Embiid caught up to attempt his first. Before Horford could let his fourth attempt fly, Embiid sank one through the basket to eliminate Horford from the event.

“The shot, which I was making [during practice], it felt good,” Horford said after the event, “and then I think the pressure got to me a little bit.”

The fact that Horford struggled with the threeball was a bit surprising, as he headed into the All-Star break having made 43.6 percent of his attempts from long distance. He later elaborated on what happened at the top of the arc during the contest.

“Once I was out there, I thought the first shot was good – I was like, ‘Oh! Good!’” he explained. “And then I was like, ‘Oh, I missed it!’ And then … I just wasn’t expecting it. I thought it was good, so then by that time, Joel caught up to me.”

The five-time All-Star smiled and clapped his hands together after Embiid’s win, but he was clearly upset by his defeat following a masterful performance through the opening stages of the challenge course.

“It happens,” he said, “but me and him were having a good talk before, so it was fun.”

Embiid wound up falling in the second round to Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen, who advanced to the finals before falling to eventual champion Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets.

Horford said that he can now scratch the Skills Challenge off of his bucket list and that he will not participate in the event again, but he noted that he enjoyed the experience. He also joked that had he run a pick-and-pop and caught a pass from teammate and co-All-Star Kyrie Irving, he would have drained his first attempt from 3-point range.

In regard to the four-stage course itself, Horford stated that the passing portion is actually the most difficult piece of the puzzle, regardless of how easy he made it look.

“I couldn’t believe I nailed it like that,” he said. “I got lucky that I did it, but the pass is the most challenging because you can just throw it and if you miss it you lose some momentum.”

Horford had momentum for a brief stretch Saturday night, but Embiid caught up and snagged that momentum away in a hurry. Boston’s big man didn’t take home the Skills Challenge trophy, but look at the bright side: he was still able to cross off a piece of his basketball bucket list.