Horford leads way, as Hawks survive for another day

Al Horford, in his first start in nearly four months, was Hawks' best player early against Boston. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Al Horford, in his first start in four months, was Hawks' best player early and late against Boston. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

With his dual-personality basketball team facing playoff elimination Tuesday night, Hawks coach Larry Drew started a center (Al Horford) who was coming off his first game in nearly four months and a forward (Marvin Williams) who had played his way on to the bench for much of this season.

“We wanted to give a different look and see if it jump-starts us,” Drew said.

This is where the average Hawks fan inserted the just-rearranging-the-chairs-on-the-Titanic joke. Because, well, what is an Atlanta sports fan if not someone with a sense of impending doom?

But something weird happened. Actually, more like something Hawks happened. Philips Arena was Sybil Central again.

They trailed by 10 early. They led by 12 late. They blew the lead (of course). They got it back (of course).

They led 87-83 with a minute left, but left Paul Pierce wide open for a 3-pointer (seriously?). Then they led by one point and had the ball with 10 seconds left, but Josh Smith threw away an inbounds pass to Rajon Rondo (Smith later on Rondo: “He’s got long fingers.”), only to knock away a pass at the other end as time expired.

Sorry. Did you lose your stomach about seven turns back?

But hey, the Hawks won 87-86. They live to play another game. That’s probably more than most saw coming after self-immolation two days earlier in Boston.

The Celtics still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2. They certainly will be favored to close this out Thursday night. But speculate at your own risk.

As for Drew’s lineup decisions, try this: Horford, back from a torn pectoral, finished with a team-high 19 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots. Williams made three of six three-point attempts — the rest of the team was 4-for-10. On a night when Smith and Joe Johnson started dreadfully but finished strong, Horford was the difference.

Horford was expected to play 15 to 20 minutes. He ended up playing over 41.

“I didn’t want to bring him back that early in the fourth, but it was a close game and you could feel the momentum shifting,” Drew said. “He was a superman for us down the stretch.”

So was this: After making only 4 of 16 shots to open the game and shooting 35.7 percent in the first half, the Hawks shots 61.3 percent in the second half.

The Hawks were a resilient team during the season. So, yes, even given the backdrop of so many franchise failures in past seasons, it was stunning to see this bunch in Game 4 on Sunday morph back into the decipherable blob that lost four consecutive second-round playoff games to Orlando by a cumulative 101 points in 2010.

How does a team, knowing what’s on the line, find itself trailing by 24 points midway through the second quarter of a playoff game?

The hangover seemed to carry into Tuesday. Johnson, taking his usual public flogging for postseason failures, said following the morning shootaround, “We haven’t had a game like Game 4 in quite some time. It was mind-boggling, honestly. I’m still puzzled by that.”

He should try the view from the stands.

It wasn’t much better at the start of this one. Smith missed his first eight shots, too many of the what-are-you-doing variety. The Hawks started the game shooting 4-for-16. They trailed early by 10 points, 28-18.

Mocking shouts from the stands could be heard after Johnson misses (although it was difficult to tell if they were coming from Celtics fans or Hawks fans). He had complained he needed “more touches” after the last game, and the Hawks bent over backwards to appease him. At one point in the half, Jeff Teague passed up a wide open 3-point attempt to feed Johnson, who also was open. He missed.

But the Hawks found a spark late in the half. They went on a 14-3 run after consecutive three-pointers by Williams (two), Johnson and Teague, taking their first lead at 40-37 since 3-2.

Did the skies just open up?

Like so many things Hawks-related, it was an agonizing tease. They built a 12-point lead in the third quarter, only to implode. Four turnovers enabled the Celtics to close the quarter on a 10-0 run and the lead to 66-64. They did that with Rondo leading the way and Pierce on the bench resting his sore knee.

But the Hawks made another run. Teague fed Horford inside to break an 83-all tie. The next time down the court, Horford made a 6-foot floater to make the score 87-83, setting up the final frantic seconds.

Drew wanted to believe the Hawks could come back from 3-1.

“Like I’ve told our players,” he said, “I think we’ve had a great season despite [Game 3], and that game is no reflection on the rest of our season. We watched film, we talked about it and learned from it and now it’s time to move on.”

They did that. No telling what happens next.

By Jeff Schultz

106 comments Add your comment

IceColdATLien

May 8th, 2012
10:59 pm

We just saw Al officially take over the leadership of this team… much to JJ’s delight, I would imagine. I can’t hate on Smoove for the crappy inbound pass at the end, I place the blame on coaches for having Josh inbounding the rock when they have TMac, Marv, and other better-passing tall/long guys.

Don’t let the ATL boys win game six… cuz game seven will be the resting place of the original “Big Three”

IceColdATLien

May 8th, 2012
11:00 pm

I don’t do “1st!!!!”

Jason

May 8th, 2012
11:01 pm

Thank goodness this ownership group sued itself to get Joe Johnson here. If not for him, the team might actually make it past the first round this year.

IceColdATLien

May 8th, 2012
11:02 pm

“Because, well, what is an Atlanta sports fan if not someone with a sense of impending doom?”

Jeff, that was the best encapsulation of my mindset as an ATL fan that I’ve ever heard… very nice.

JSS

May 8th, 2012
11:03 pm

I’ll take it!!!

IceColdATLien

May 8th, 2012
11:04 pm

Jason, I’m not sure what you’re talking about since the Hawks (along with the Celts and Lakers) are one of only three squads to make the second round each of the past three years… get a clue, Cuz.

5150 UOAD

May 8th, 2012
11:07 pm

this team has as much BITE as Roundfield and HEART as Drew.

Rajon Rondo

May 8th, 2012
11:09 pm

Look at my goofy face in that picture.

5150 UOAD

May 8th, 2012
11:10 pm

All ATLANTA sports teams need to wear uniforms close to a Dominatrix outfit. They tease us, beat us. take our money and leave us unfulfilled.

Larry Nalls

May 8th, 2012
11:14 pm

I told you it Could Happen…ha

Ryder

May 8th, 2012
11:18 pm

5150 UOAD, best post ever!

It’s good that they actually won a game because Rondo wanted to be the hero. At least Horford proved that he is Atlanta’s only reliable player from game to game.

TC

May 8th, 2012
11:23 pm

In the photo above, Rondo looks like the Hawks comentator who sits next to stinger, what’s his name?

Eb

May 8th, 2012
11:24 pm

Great play by Al tonight. He was clearly the difference between extending the season and going home.

Joe had another aberage night- far from the superstar he’s supposed to be. Atlanta teams should avoid people from Arkansas in the future as the past has not boded well- JJ, Jamaal Anderson (DE Falcons), Bobby Petrino.

Gwinnett Fred

May 8th, 2012
11:29 pm

Serious question:

Why in the world is Smith in the game when the key is: (1) ball handling, (2) intelligent decision making, and/or (3) good free throw shooting needed as other team will foul?

Dead serious – he would be the last person I would have inbounding the ball in the key spot where he almost lost the game by himself. This was after doing his best to blow a 10 point lead in the 3rd quarter by, on consecutive posessions, 1- dribbled the ball upcourt and turned it over, 2- let his opponent drive rgo right past him for a stickback while still pouting before 3- trying to make up for it by drilling a 3, but instead laid another brick.

I have never seen a player with so much talent be such a total loser. Thank God for Horford!

JSS

May 8th, 2012
11:32 pm

If Dominatrix beats you and you’re “unfilled?” Maybe that ain’t your kind of a party!

TC

May 8th, 2012
11:32 pm

Gwinnet Fred you are a loser. We would not be in the play offs without JS high level of play all season

Marcus

May 8th, 2012
11:33 pm

Schultzie,
Glad we won …. whew!
On that 3-ball by Pierce … Marvin didn’t look to be at fault when I saw it again on replay courtesy of ESPN …. somehow Marvin was left alone trying to guard both Pierce and Pietrus (who had the 3-ball corner pocket shot on the near baseline) and was caught trying to guard both, leaning towards Pietrus. I think Josh or JJ left his man to double-down on Rondos penetration or failed to rotate, which left Marvin in a lose-lose situtation.

The percentages are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay in favor of BOS pulling this series out, but we did show some mettle.

I still lament the front-rimmed jumper that Willie had in Game 3 with 14 secs. left when the game was knotted @ 80. Hit that shot and this could have been a different series, despite giving away Game 2 with Rondo on the bench.

Gwinnett Fred

May 8th, 2012
11:33 pm

BTW – If Johnson was wondering how long it had been since they played like dog crap like they did in game 4, he must have a short memory. The last Sunday game in the regular season was a 100% disaster getting blown out at home vs. Toronto and it’s 3 10-day contract starters!

“Oh yea”, said Johnson. “Now I remember that game”. Frigging idiot.

DarthVesper

May 8th, 2012
11:34 pm

I have faith that the Hawks will win game 6!

JSS

May 8th, 2012
11:34 pm

“I have never seen a player with so much talent be such a total loser. ”

You live in a town where Nick Esasky, Aundray Bruce, and Isiah Rider applied their trade, are you serious?

Jamaaliver

May 8th, 2012
11:35 pm

Josh Smith is TERRIBLE!!!

They have to trade this guy in the off-season, right Jeff?

Can anyone else remember the last time he more than 50% of his shots?

Dr. Warren

May 8th, 2012
11:36 pm

I give them a 0% chance of winning the series–they are, after all, the same schizoid Hawks–but at least Horford is back and making them look better and giving ASG a reason not to make any changes in the off-season so next year we will have a 25-50% chance make it to Round 2. NBA purgatory.

Gwinnett Fred

May 8th, 2012
11:38 pm

@ TC:

Why don’t you try COMPREHENDING what you are reading BEFORE making a stupid statement.

My point is that he should not have been inbounding the ball or even be in the game under the set of circumstances the game was at with 10.9 seconds to play.

I think he should have been an all star and certainly we wouldn’t have made the playoffs without him – BUT he has the ability to play selfish, stupid basketball at the worst opportune time – that does not win games!

Marcus

May 8th, 2012
11:39 pm

I agree w/Gwinnett Fred to some degree …. with 10 sec. left and no fouls to give, we all knew BOS was gonna put somebody on the FT line. I was begging LD to sub for Smoove, just for foul shooting %. The turnover, now that was unexpected drama for the last few seconds … unnecessary and palpatation-inducing drama.

One question … it seems like LD is using almost all his bench except Ivan. Pargo and WG have gotten minutes in recent games , although I don’t think Pargo got time in Game 5. Collins has resumed his reg. season seat on the bench. I don’t remember if McGrady got game tonight, seems like LD rode the starters + spot duty from WG. Dampier and Heinrich.

Gwinnett Fred

May 8th, 2012
11:41 pm

@JSS

Talent wise, Smith has more than any of those you listed with the possible exception of Bruce.

Seriously, if you are going to trash the Atlanta teams like you love to do, you should be able to come up with a better example of a great talent that sucked than Nick Esasky – come on, I expect more from you than that. Be creative man, Brad Komminsk or Jeff Francoeur maybe – but Nick Esasky??? LOL

JSS

May 8th, 2012
11:44 pm

That is on the coach, he’s the worst free throw shooter on the floor but your only player capable of guarding the tin… You take that risk, I guess Hal Greer who was great player should not have inbounded the ball against the Celts either? Geez, Drew should have gone offense defense with McGrady, but hey you want to kick Smith…

Big Lou

May 8th, 2012
11:45 pm

LOL @ RONDO IN THAT PICK!

He looks like he just saw something yummy…

TC

May 8th, 2012
11:46 pm

It was a bad coaching decision that had Josh inbounding the ball. So blame Drew not Josh

Marcus

May 8th, 2012
11:46 pm

crap, forgot the question (LOL)

What predicted adjustments will we make (and BOS make) for Game 6? We shortened our bench, and put our season-opening starting lineup out on the floor ….. we don’t have any margin for error so any chess move that Doc Rivers makes for Game 6, we have to counter immediately or break out the fishing poles…
I would look for a Paul Pierce rising, so whatever scheme or motivation can be used to keep him from going NBA Jam-esque “on fiyah” in Game 6, LD will earn his playoff paycheck. Seemed like Bradley and Pierce didn’t get off, and the BOS bench shooters (Dooling, Marquise Daneils) didn’t get a lot of run.
We pissed away our lead (tied @ 83) with two straight, Iso-Joe dribble the clock down to a tough shot possessions, when having Teague be aggressive and drive had been the catalyst all night for good shots and good assists.
Get to Game 7 and all bets are off.

5150 UOAD

May 8th, 2012
11:48 pm

JSS I don’t know what “unfilled” is. The being whipped isn’t the HAPPY ENDING. Maybe you need to stick to The Eagle or Bulldogs in Midtown Atlanta.

JSS

May 8th, 2012
11:56 pm

I don’t trash Atlanta teams, I point out when they aren’t up to mustard you cherry picker… I like a number of players on the Falcons, they just aren’t the one’s you and your ilk drool over… I don’t gulp down your Chipper Jones hooey (post 2004) either, I’m critical of not realizing when opportunity is in front of you! Komminsek was potential (mostly TBS hype), Esasky had a real resume, but the Braves were too stupid to have a Ear, Nose, Throat exam done on a multi-million investment! They got want they deserved! Rider was a nut case, but hey Babock liked sleeping with the devi! Look, Smith has his flaws, I’ve learned live with them when he is willing to warrior up and play on 1 and 1/2 legs!l

JSS

May 8th, 2012
11:57 pm

POAD, you needed to get better analogies… And more lotion or KY!

JSS

May 9th, 2012
12:03 am

Great talent sucked, Dude, you can list the great list the “great talent” who played for the Braves between Oct 9, 1974-April 30, 1991 on three fingers (Niekro, Murphy, and the ushers in the Upper deck cause they stayed awake!) …

What's gone rondo?

May 9th, 2012
12:08 am

Joe makes a bad team better, a good team play worse. Josh, Al, Marvin, and Teague would play better without Joe! Let’s play through Joe. Let’s give Joe more touches!!!!!!!

rollo lawson

May 9th, 2012
12:11 am

Did anyone notice that Drew called for the “Iso-Joe” play and not Joe Johnson? Why take the ball out of Teague’s hands. Drew, for whatever reason does not trust Teague in the crunch.

When will Drew get the nuts to tell his big men to get the ball into the point guard’s hands after the rebound and just run the floor. How many turnovers did Josh and Al commit trying to impersonate Magic Johnson? You can’t do that with Rondo lurking!!

Play and coach smart basketball Thursday and we will play in Game 7 Sat. If you play out of control and coach like an idiot on thursday, you will get embarassed and the season will be over.

JSS

May 9th, 2012
12:13 am

Rollo, it’s Larry Drew…

jlewis

May 9th, 2012
12:14 am

seriously rondo?

Mr. P

May 9th, 2012
12:23 am

I was at the game tonight, and the atmosphere was awesome in the 4th quarter. It was great to see all of the Celtics fans sitting on their butts through most of the 4th. Of course, we made it interesting down the stretch, as always. Let’s go steal one in Boston and bring it back home for game 4. Can we believe in this team??? I hope so…GO HAWKS!

Greg

May 9th, 2012
12:36 am

3 reasons to blow up the team:
(1) Teague is a score first point who doesn’t make the players around him better. He is not a leader.
(2) Joe Johnson, the teams supposed franchise player, is selfish and has no leadership qualities. He not only doesn’t make anyone better around him, he makes them worse.
(3) Josh Smith still plays like an 18 year old in many of the moments of the game that matter most. It’s hard not to hold your breath every time he touches the ball.

Horford is the only true winner on the team and he proved that again tonight.

With the issues relating to Teague, Johnson and Smith, it’s not surprising at all that the Hawks had an awful record vs teams with records of .500 and above…and that obviously isn’t going to change as long as those guys represent the core of the team.

They won’t win this series because they don’t believe they can win this series.

5150 UOAD

May 9th, 2012
12:43 am

JSS Brett Butler, Horner, Washington?

Mike

May 9th, 2012
12:48 am

@greg – you cant just blow up a team at will. JJ is signed to a max contract. Think anyone is going to take on that for his production? You have to find someone to trade him to or wait out the contract. Meanwhile, you cant go over the cap signing free agents which means the Hawks only legit option is to keep this team together. You can go over the cap signing players on your roster already.

Teague is too young to be knocking like that. Smith has improved considerably this year. Here’s what blowing up the team will do:

Leave us with Joe Johnson and worse players around him than what is already here. JJ is not going anywhere with that contract. Marvin Williams is also still a Hawk because no one wants him for his money either.

Jamaaliver

May 9th, 2012
12:50 am

@Greg-

I don’t disagree with your assessments about Smoove, Teague and JJ. But you have to give them credit for accomplishing what they did during the season without Horford.

Teague is a score first PG, but this was his first season as starter. He was solid with lots of room for improvement.

JJ is simply overpaid. He’s still our top scorer and most reliable option in crunch time.

Josh Smith sucks, though. Not a winner. Anytime a boneheaded mistake is made by ATL, you just KNOW he’s a part of it. He needs to go.

Mike

May 9th, 2012
12:51 am

The Hawks have been devastated by injury in this series. Despite that, this team is an OT loss away from being up 3-2 going back to Boston. If Smith and Horford had both been healthy for the whole series, the Hawks win 4-1. No way they lose game 2 or 3 without being short handed.

rollo lawson

May 9th, 2012
12:52 am

If you have a problem with the way Teague plays, you don’t know ish about basketball. Any idiot can see that this team’s problems center around Larry Drew. He constantly gets out-coached by the better coaches in the league. But to give him credit, he didn’t mess this game up tonight.

JSS

May 9th, 2012
12:53 am

Horner was fat when he got to Atlanta, and fatter the day he left… Everyone within ear shout of the ASU campus knew Bob could not stay away from the dinner plate, training plate, or the buffet plate! I never lost sleep over Horner… Brett Butler didn’t waste his talent, he discovered it in Cleveland and exploited it in SF and LA! You got your money’s worth from Claudell, he was an average baseball player…

rollo lawson

May 9th, 2012
12:53 am

Why is Willie Green getting minutes? I’d suit up Jerry Stackhouse for Game 6 and put Collins in street clothes. His Hawk’s career might be over pretty soon.

rollo lawson

May 9th, 2012
12:57 am

A real coach like Jerry Sloan is all Josh Smith needs.
Replace Collins and Dampier with center Bernard James, out of FSU. He reminds me of Serge Ibaka. And sign a SG/SF with Hinrich’s money.

jaceylow

May 9th, 2012
1:02 am

trade everyone except AL Hartford and Jeff Teage. Joe Johnson is not a leader. This Atlanta hawks needs a leader , until then we are not going to go nowhere.

SAL

May 9th, 2012
1:08 am

Blah Blah Blah…so what. They will lose game 6 in Boston and this will be over. The Hawks blew their chances in the game 2 loss. Had they won that game, they would be up 3-2 right now.

Bravesfan79

May 9th, 2012
1:17 am

Hawks put together their best game yet and pull out game 6. Then come back to AtL where anything can happen!
PS… having Smith in those last 20 seconds was just dumb. Poor freethrow shooter, not the best passer.