Al Horford could do no wrong and the Boston Celtics missed an opportunity to rest their broken bodies in an 87-86 defeat at the hands of the Hawks.
Horford started for the first time since January and provided Atlanta with everything they have been missing in this series: toughness, inside-scoring, and most importantly passion for the game.
“I wanted to bring that energy to the team,” Horford said.
Horford tuned up the Celtics with 19 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. His biggest play came on the Celtics last possession where he was able to defend Rajon Rondo on an attempt to drive to the basket.
Rondo made a miraculous steal off a Josh Smith inbound pass with just 10 seconds left to play. The Celtics were out of timeouts and Rondo drove to to the corner where Horford met him on a defensive switch. Rondo hoped to turn the corner and drive or kick out to an open teammate, but Horford forced him back towards the top where Smith tipped the ball away as the final seconds ticked off the clock. (Here is the play in full)
No shot for the Celtics on the final possession and now the series heads back to Boston for Game 6 Thursday night.
Rondo played a crucial role as always in giving the Celtics a chance to win. He filled up the stat sheet with 13 points, 12 assists, 5 rebounds and 5 steals but not getting a shot off on that final possession is just inexcusable.
“I tried to make a play, but got caught on the baseline. Give Al credit. I just didn’t come up with the shot.” said Rondo after the game.
“I wish he (Rondo) had went down the middle of the floor, I think you should always go down the middle of the floor, especially when you have a big on you.” said Doc Rivers “I, thought Kevin set a nice step-up pick; I was hoping he would attack the basket. But really, I just thought he lost the ball and that threw off any chance we had…I feel awful the game ended the way it ended, because I thought Rondo willed us back into the game.”
Both teams battled back from multiple double digit deficits in the game with the Celtics nearly overcoming the final 10 point lead the Hawks hung on them in the 4th quarter.
Rondo was the key to every Celtics comeback but Horford was the key to the Hawks win.
Atlanta changed their starting lineup to go big against Boston with the insertion of Horford at center and Marvin Williams at small forward. That move allowed Joe Johnson to come off of Pierce defensively and more importantly negated Boston’s advantage at the center position.
With Horford back and healthy he is both physical and mobile enough to contend with Kevin Garnett. KG had been feasting on the offensively mute centers the Hawks had been throwing out there but he will have to stay close to Horford going forward in the series.
In case you were wondering Paul Pierce did play in the game too and hobbled his way to 16 points on 7-17 from the floor. He hit a huge triple that cut the Hawks lead to 1 but then air balled a jumper that would have given the Celtics the go ahead basket.
And thus the Boston game is encapsulated. Heroic plays one moment and villainous the next.
The Hawks are now at full strength with just the nagging injuries one would expect at this point off the season. If Smith (knee) is really injured it wasn’t apparent by looking at his stat line of 13 points, 16 rebounds and 6 assists–Celtics Brandon Bass wishes he could be so injured.
“This is the team they thought they were going to start the season with,” Rivers said. “They now have it, and we have to deal with it.”
That statement screams captain obvious but the question is how will the Celtics deal with it. Can’t wait to see what the Doc’s orders will be in Game 6.
About the Author
Written by Warren Shaw
I am an avid Basketball fan who has worked for the New York Knicks, Alonzo Mourning Charities and various other sports organizations. Having covered many NBA and various professional sporting events has given me the opportunity to provide insight with an unbiased but flavor driven view. I look forward to providing NBA content and interacting with knowledgeable fans and readers. Follow me on Twitter @shawsports or Email your questions to me at Warrenshaw@prosportsblogging.com