Culture of Hoops

You Can Call Me Al – Horford Drags Hawks to Series Lead

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Twenty-three points. It’s not necessarily eye-popping stuff. Eleven rebounds isn’t exactly a stat that jumps off the page. Five blocks? Yeah, that’s interesting, but remember we’ve got Anthony Davis now that makes eight blocks seem like the norm.

On Wednesday night, this was the stat line of Hawks big-man Al Horford, who came up huge in a pivotal Game 5 in Atlanta.

“Al Horford, just quietly going about his business in the offseason…” the commentators stated, matter-of-factly, during the first quarter.

For a team that is known positively as the “Spurs East” and more cagily as “a team without a go-to player” the Hawks found their Tim Duncan for a night.

On Wednesday night Horford did everything. Inside, outside. Moving the ball around the perimeter. Dumping the ball inside for layups.

Then there was the flashier stuff: a follow-up jam that sent Marcin Gortat flying into the hoop support, dunking flailing drives that he finished off the glass.

And then, down four with just over four minutes remaining, Dennis Schroeder found Big Al waiting in the right corner. With a 7-foot Polish Hammer charging on the close out and right in front of the Washington Wizards bench, he buried it. His second three pointer of the playoffs couldn’t have come at a better time.

A minute later, he stepped inside and nailed another jumper from the top of the key to give the Hawks the lead.

Then, he protected that lead, swatting away a John Wall drive to the basket the following possession.

It still wasn’t enough — the Wizards kept coming but Al Horford had saved his best to last.

With 8.9 seconds remaining, down one, the Hawks inbounded the ball to Dennis Schroeder who drove down the right-hand side of the lane. He missed. The key was crowded. There were at least four Wizards in the vicinity of the play — Wall who was guarding Schroeder’s lay-up attempt, Pierce guarding Millsap at the top, Otto Porter playing weak-side help and Nene, who was supposed to be guarding, guess who? Al Horford.

Big Al came flying through the lane — the hopes of the Hawks’ season resting on his shoulders — he skittled three guys on the way to securing the offensive rebound, composed himself, the key parted like the Red Sea, and he rose back up and dropped in what would be the game-winner for the Hawks.

His official line? 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 blocks. According to Elias Sports Bureau [via] it is the first time a Hawks player has recorded at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocks in Hawks playoff history.

Not bad.

For the Wizards, this wasn’t the way it was supposed to go.

John Wall returned to the starting line-up after missing three games with a five fractures in his left wrist. For the most part, he looked good and clearly gave his team a much needed lift. However, the Wizards, who led most of the game, once again squandered a lead down the stretch.

Once again, Paul Pierce had the opportunity to play the hero — and he did — nailing a huge three-pointer from the left corner in front of the Hawks bench with just seconds remaining.

Pierce, who famously said, “I called game” after hitting a game-winning buzzer beater in Game 3 of this series, apparently then turned to the Hawks bench and said, “Series”.

For the Washington faithful, he spoke too soon.

The series returns to Washington on Friday, where the Wizards will be fighting to stay alive.

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