Al Horford on Game 5: ‘I didn’t know if I was going to play’

Smile, Al Horfford: You just rescued the Hawks in the NBA playoffs. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Smile, Al Horford: You just rescued the Hawks in the NBA playoffs. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Three hours before tip-off, three hours before the performance that would reaffirm what Al Horford means to this basketball team, the Hawks’ center had no idea if he would be able to play.

“I got to the arena around 5 o’clock, and I didn’t know if I was going to play,” Horford said in a corner of the locker room late Tuesday night. “It was pregame. I was real uncertain. I was feeling tight. I couldn’t get my full range of motion in my pec and my shoulder.”

The Hawks already were in relative crisis mode. They were down 3-1 in a playoff series that they had once led 1-0. They had flat-lined in Game 4 in Boston. Now Horford can’t play?

The only thing preventing this from devolving into slapstick would’ve been Alan Henderson walking through the door and saying, “Don’t worry guys, I got this” (before sneezing and throwing his back out again).

Fortunately, tragic comedy was averted. Horford climbed on to a table in the training room and a Hawks team massage therapist worked on him until all of the limbs functioned again, particularly the left arm and shoulder. Horford took it from there.

After a four-month absence for a torn pectoral and 20 minutes in Game 4 that left him feeling about 80, Horford reminded everybody what the Hawks have been missing. He played over 41 minutes (later acknowledging that he and coach Larry Drew “had an agreement it would be between 15 and 25″). He scored 17 points in the second half, finishing with a team-high 19 points. He totaled 11 rebounds, three blocked shots, three steals, three assists and harassed Boston’s best player, Rajon Rondo, down the stretch to secure the Hawks’ 87-86 win in Game 5 at Philips Arena.

Yeah. That about covers it.

Horford was strong defensively, like here against Mikael Pietrus in the fourth quarter. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Horford was strong defensively, like here against Mikael Pietrus in the fourth quarter. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

“I know it takes a while for a person to get his timing back,” Josh Smith said later. “But Al looked like he didn’t lose a step. Everybody could see how important and vital he is to this ballclub.”

Horford made his first three shots in the second half (after a 1-for-5 first half) to give the Hawks a six-point lead (54-48). When Ray Allen tied the score at 83-83 with less than three minutes remaining, Horford scored the next two buckets (a dunk and a driving hook shot) to restore the lead. After a Smith turnover on an in-bounds pass, he chased Rondo down the court and forced him to the sideline, preventing a potential pass or game-winning shot.

“He was a superman for us down the stretch,” Drew said.

Somebody had to be. The heat was on Joe Johnson to have a playoff moment worthy of his pay stub. It didn’t happen. Smith was a mess for a half (he missed his first eight shots), though he finished strong (6-for-8) and helped in other areas (16 rebounds, six assists, defense).

But Game 6 on Thursday night doesn’t happen without Horford.

There is obvious uncertainty about the Hawks’ future. Smith has asked out. Johnson is whatever Johnson is. Jeff Teague has made significant strides at point guard, but sometimes he needs to be reminded what he’s capable of.

Horford is the only sure thing. Aside from the tangibles, he consistently brings attitude and passion, things the Hawks too often have lacked in big games.

He never expected to be playing so many minutes so soon, but said, “It’s just my competitiveness taking over. I know I’m not where I want to be [physically], so I just have to push through it. I want to win.”

Being out for so long was difficult. It was worse late in the season when Horford starred in a daily Hamlet act. He would feel good one day after a practice and proclaim he was ready for the playoffs. Then he would feel bad the next day and say he was out. Once, the prognosis changed in the same day.

“It was frustrating,” he said. “But when I did contact stuff, I kept feeling worse and worse.”

The turn came following a practice before Game 4 when he told Drew he felt ready.

He said felt “sluggish” at the outset Tuesday night.

“I was mad at myself because I wasn’t having the impact that I wanted,” he said.

That changed as the game wore on. He loosened up. The impact came and the Hawks extended their playoff lives.

Whether there is a Game 7 may depend on how Horford feels when he gets off the massage table in Boston on Thursday night.

By Jeff Schultz

52 comments Add your comment

RecentWreck

May 9th, 2012
12:13 pm

Would have been nice to have that double-double all season

jdawg

May 9th, 2012
12:20 pm

Al’s a good guy but who cares? The Hawks are the same fragile mediocre team they apparently always will be. If you invest any emotional energy into this franchise at all, you are truly pitiful.

1893 Reporter

May 9th, 2012
12:25 pm

Put a leach on that young man and reinsert him onto the playing court. This collective of basket-ball players needs a man of his mental toughness.

I must commend Alford Horford on the condition of his gams. One week without walking and my legs resembled toothpicks stuck onto olives. The green olive symbolizes a circulatory issue I have with my feet. That will be detailed in another comment later this week.

1893 Reporter

May 9th, 2012
12:27 pm

Good day Mr. Schultz, might you recommend a ribbon for my Sholes and Glidden type-writer?

Brett

May 9th, 2012
12:32 pm

Bonus points for the Classic Alan Henderson reference

JSS

May 9th, 2012
12:35 pm

Jeff Schultz, you’re happier than the kid’s meal at McDonald’s to have Horford back! Hey, what is Jamal Crawford doing these days?

Brian F.

May 9th, 2012
12:39 pm

Get Big Al ready to play !!

CJ

May 9th, 2012
12:40 pm

Solid Hendoo reference Schultz

Kennyd

May 9th, 2012
12:53 pm

Al is playing out position in the NBA and doing a great job. This guy been out since Jan and to come back, play the ways he’s play is outstanding.

Josh Smith need to spend more time in the paint and Joe Johnson need a new home in the NBA, this guy is hurting the Hawks.

Then the Hawks have the senior Tracy Mac ! All I can say is WOW ! The Hawks need a better GM as well………..

biz

May 9th, 2012
12:59 pm

This playoff series has been a wishful thinking seesaw act between blowing up the crew (save Teague and Al and getting what you can for josh) and keeping it together for a healthy season. Is there much doubt that a healthy Al and Zaza would have led to a higher seed and a leap into the 3 best teams in the East? Al and Josh playing together was fun to see.

Eddie from acworth

May 9th, 2012
1:04 pm

Anybody who mf’s the Celts after winning (horford said its back to boston mfers) is the TEAM LEADER imo. Think Joe johnson would have done that??

Al and Tegue can stay. The rest, including the soft coach, can go pound sand.

Irrelevant anyways. celts win by 20 tomorrow night…..we have seen this b4!

VinnyDiamonds

May 9th, 2012
1:07 pm

I definitely agree with the article without Horford this game would have been a blowout. If Joe Johnson had half the heart of Horford he might and I mean might be worth the money. The inbounds pass that Josh Smith threw away was Joe Johnson’s fault, he acted like he wanted no part of having the ball @ the end of the game. I guess he has been watching Lebron too much.

DePort

May 9th, 2012
1:08 pm

If you dont like the Hawks… Dont watch? That will solve the whinning on these blogs.

c dog

May 9th, 2012
1:19 pm

Alan Hendooo…love it

c dog

May 9th, 2012
1:19 pm

Alan Hendooo…love it

JSS

May 9th, 2012
1:25 pm

Was Ma Sutton tipping in New England? Geez, Shaugnessy looks like Don!

bigdon

May 9th, 2012
1:26 pm

As a closet Hawks fan I don’t have much in this fight, but I do like Horford. The should not let Josh get away and obviously not Horford, but they should leave the back door open at Phillips and allow the others to sneak off into the night.

Bravesfan79

May 9th, 2012
1:29 pm

jdawg: Funny coming from a UGA fan talking about the hawks lack of success in basketball. Im a GT fan 100%, and support UGA when they make the tourney as well. We support our teams because we love em. Every team goes thru rough years, but thats what makes it so special when your team FINALLY has the success you dreamed of for years. (Braves 91, Red Sox, etc…)

Nothing is worse in sports than fake fans, they were Miami fans last year, and now their probably OKC fans this year. They have no real team they go for, therefore dont get the same satisfaction out of watching sports that real fans do. Go Hawks, Falcons, Braves and GT!

johnm

May 9th, 2012
1:52 pm

preach on bravesfan 79, I agree completely go hawks, falcons, braves, gt. atl all the way

Drex

May 9th, 2012
1:55 pm

Horford is the heart of the Hawks. Josh is the most talented player. If he played with consistent intensity as Horford, wow. Hawks need to rid themselves of Joe and Marvin, somehow, someway.

Jeff Schultz

May 9th, 2012
2:01 pm

1893 Reporter — Confounded ribbons. But I recall J.J. Newberrys had them on sale back in Los Angeles for 12 cents. And that cashier was a peach.

Jeff Schultz

May 9th, 2012
2:01 pm

Brett — Thanks. I miss Alan Henderson. (Only for the jokes of course.)

Jeff Schultz

May 9th, 2012
2:02 pm

JSS — I like Al. Happy Meals, not so much. Jamal lives on on Twitter.

Brian

May 9th, 2012
2:07 pm

I am a Hawks fan but I do not think even Horford can help them out of Boston with a win in game 6. Unfortunantly the Hawks will regress this season.

Brian

May 9th, 2012
2:09 pm

Josh and Al are great 4’s but neither is a legit 5.We need a 5.

Buddy Grizzard

May 9th, 2012
2:22 pm

It’s time to come clean Jeff. Just admit it, you did it for the PEZ dispensers:

http://www.hoopinionblog.com/2012/05/curious-case-of-marvin-williams.html

crackbaby

May 9th, 2012
2:25 pm

Something’s wrong in the Hawks locker room. Team chemistry is out of balance. The bench doesn’t cheer much for the starters and half this team doesn’t talk to the other half.

No matter the talk about coaches and players, this team cannot win with absentee corporate ownership. Look at the LA Dodgers now that they have caring owners – the team is focused and energized.

To waste an NBA franchise in the city that is Atlanta is a crying shame. Win a championship and the ATL could be the basketball capital of the world!! Why can’t potential owners see this?…

How?

May 9th, 2012
2:28 pm

Coach said you better play Joe slow Johnson stinks.

Kerry

May 9th, 2012
2:42 pm

I am proud of my hawks, A win is a WIN, The hawks gets criticism when they lose, The hawks get criticism when they win, If they don’t win the series, I will still be proud of them, I think they had a good season this year, considering they did not play all 82 games, After all they did win 40 games, LOVE MY HAWKS!!!!!

mediocrity continues...

May 9th, 2012
2:43 pm

My 5 year old daughter has more heart in her pinky finger while taking a dump than Joe Johnson has in his entire body.

Nice inbound pass J-Smith at the end of the game. Amateur…

ignition

May 9th, 2012
2:53 pm

Man we gotta win game 6….

Dr. Warren

May 9th, 2012
3:12 pm

Haven’t we all had a crazy girlfriend or boss exactly like the Hawks? The emotional roller coaster ride ends only when you decide to exit. I mentally exited after Game 2, but should have after the Orlando series a couple years back.

cdog

May 9th, 2012
3:30 pm

the hawks must play hard and believe, they will take this series from the celtics

ho hum

May 9th, 2012
3:57 pm

Is this some kind of Willis Reed against LA comparison?

Who cares?

May 9th, 2012
4:00 pm

Hawks are back to their old ways of losing in the first round….probably game 6.
Bring on football!!!!

sh happens with old age, head knocks or not

May 9th, 2012
4:23 pm

I banged my head in frustration at a Falcons game 30 years ago. Yesterday I forgot where my keys were. Can I join the NFL lawsuit?

phil

May 9th, 2012
4:23 pm

After we lose by 25 tomorrow night, please, for the love of us all, GET RID OF JOSH SMITH!!

He has no basketball IQ at all and whines more than a 3 year old out there.

Then, something good happens, and he taunts the other team, thereby igniting them instantly.

He drives me crazy.

I knew, you knew, we all knew....should you accept this mission...

May 9th, 2012
4:28 pm

I was told I will be paid millions of dollars to play a game I knew had risks. Take the money and accept how it’s played or not. No bitching after cashing the checks.

Baddabing

May 9th, 2012
4:49 pm

Somewhere between the last two weeks of the season and now the wheels came close to coming off. No ball movement, no team play, no Joe Johnson, then all of a sudden big Al returns and the Hawks are reborn. I think they win in Boston and blow them out here in game 7. They get Zaza back in the next round and fight their way to the Championship. I like this team.

heartofdarkness

May 9th, 2012
5:18 pm

From the front office:
“Did you see what Al Horford did last night? The timeline for recovery for his injury is another three months. He’s not even supposed to be playing and Josh [Smith] should not be playing.Zaza [Pachulia] can’t stand up, but if we can get past this round there is a chance that we can get him back. So this is a team that is overcoming adversity. I wish . . . some of the national media or even some of the local media, MORE THE PAPER THAN THE TV GUYS, recognize how hard these guys are playing based on how injured they are.”

So Jeff, I’ve been wondering who is the responsible party for all the erratic play we call an NBA season. I guess you’re the guy who wouldn’t listen to Belkin.

LakeDawg

May 9th, 2012
6:04 pm

I will give the Hawks credit. They showed some grit and played fundamentally sound BB in stretches. However, Smooove continues to make selfish/stupid plays at critical times, JJ is not a prime time player, and the coaching is still mediocre. If not for Al (The Hawks only winner at this point), the Hawk’s season is over. The time is long gone for this team to mature and jell. It will never happen. They will tease with improvement in spits and sputters, but the end result will be the same. Boston by 20 in game 6.

Beast from the East

May 9th, 2012
7:03 pm

Al is a winner. He will do whatever it takes to help his team win. While at UF, he and Noah were an absolute blast to watch as they both played with tireless energy at all times. If guys with much more natural ability (Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams) would play with the same passion and energy, then this team would be darn near unbeatable in a 7 game series. Alas, you can’t teach passion, so the Hawks will be done in 6.

Not Happening Hawks

May 9th, 2012
7:04 pm

“We are aware of that. This is a different situation for us. We are giving it all that we have.”

… still nothing but talk. “different situation” , “giving it all that we have” …. what a joke, does that mean you weren’t taking that last game in Boston seriously? No need to answer of course, the score did that already. Team like that doesn’t deserve to move on and they won’t (they might be able to back up that talk, who knows, but if they do they’ll follow it up with a big letdown in game 7, this being the Hawks you can almost see it coming)

JSS

May 9th, 2012
9:40 pm

Phil
“He drives me crazy.”

You know I can’t stop laughing right?

Michael Gearon Jr.

May 9th, 2012
10:07 pm

Someone’s out to get me. Who was that in my front yard? National media? Local media? They’re out to get me.

Patrick

May 9th, 2012
10:18 pm

Hendo Can DO! Man, what I would give to have Hendo back in that lineup. Ah, the good ole days . . .

88Hawks

May 9th, 2012
10:30 pm

Doc Rivers coaches a dirty team. Saw Pierce bang his knee? They were playing dirty and the Hawks’ players, especially Josh told them so and showed Pierce a little something something. The Celtics have been able to always come back on the Hawks in the 4th quarter and so have the Knicks at times. This tells you either the team has left everything on the floor in the first 3 quarters and are too tired to complete 48 minutes or the other team just shows a little more passion when it counts. Al Horford does not let that happen. Josh does at times, but his mistakes at key times are sometimes a problem. When neither Joe, Josh, or Marvin could hit anything at the beginning of the game, especiallt the first minute when you can make a statement, you give the other team hope and they become more accurate and aggressive. The only reason the Celtics won game 4 is because someone must have stretched the basket – everything they threw up went in. It’s hard to break the spirit of a team that is shooting lights out like that. Our defense sucked. Al needs to stop chasing point guards around all the time. He got lucky with Rondo on that last play, but a play before that, the Celtics made him pay and Pierce hit a big 3. Josh wanted to back Joe up and left Pierce open, Joe should have switched with Josh on that play, but instead got stuck behind that Celtic player under the basket. I think we can beat the Celtics 2 more games, but it’s going to take some of the hardest and smartest playing the Hawks have ever done and to remember that Doc has that team playing dirty and with passion and the Hawks need to back their words with action. Hit the Knicks or Celtics in the mouth hard and see how they fold. Doc can get really nervous and rattled when his team is being hit in the mouth, is being hit hard by the Hawks and they are scoring big. time out. Time out., time out is all you hear. come on LD!!!!!!!!

falCANS

May 9th, 2012
11:09 pm

WOOOOW OF U STILL BELIEVE SMOOVE SHOULD BE TRADED YOUR AN IDIOY. DO YOU EVEN WATCH??. HIS IQ IS ABOVE AVERAGE HENCE THE 5 APG CAREER AVERAGE. Smoove improved play will only make Al work harder and vice versa. Go hawks!!! #ECF

Tennis Rodman

May 10th, 2012
7:21 am

JOE JOHNSON for series MVP. The guy is a serious force.

Tennis Rodman

May 10th, 2012
7:24 am

While I am at it, I seriously hate the ASG. I hope each member loses their money.