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Game 5 Notes: Hawks Park the Car in Horford Yard

 

Great game last night. Tied with only a few minutes to go, both teams trading punches down the stretch, a last-second steal with a chance to win? Fun, exciting stuff. And that’s why it sucked so much.

Knowing the outcome now, I’d have preferred Pierce rested his knee for the game (his slow rotations and injury-influenced shot selection cost them the game, although that was hardly the only thing). Then I wish the Hawks had busted open the game early, so the starters could have sat and not grinded out huge minutes in a wholly disappointing loss. I hated how good that game was.

But the reality is that, now that Horford and Smith are back, this is the intense, competitive series that everyone thought it would be. Horford’s their best player. He completely changes their approach. And, by some devil’s miracle, he basically looks like himself. Great for basketball! Still: sucks.

Horford’s return swings this series toward the Hawks in a couple of ways:

Rebounding. Having two guys who can rebound is more than twice as valuable as having just one. I have no evidence to support that and I have no intention of trying. But that’s how I feel: Horford’s presence drastically increases the Hawks’ effectiveness on the glass. Atlanta gave the Celtics a rebounding swirlie in Game 5, and they’re probably going to do it again.

Matchup flexibility. Back when Mike Woodson was expressionlessly pacing the Hawks bench and making his players switch on every screen, Al Horford was accustomed to guarding every position…but he actually did it very well. He’s fast in all directions and knows what he’s doing. Bret LaGree of Hoopinion once suggested that Horford was the team’s best perimeter defender (this was back in the Bibby-Hinrich-Jamal Crawford days). So having Horford out there neutralizes a lot of the matchup advantages that Rondocould have achieved off screens in previous games.

Scoring efficiency. The Hawks, until Game 5, were running an unapologetically low-percentage attack on offense. Guys like Joe Johnson and Josh Smith graciously accepted Boston’s invitation to take a bunch of contested long jumpers, and if their bigs ever got involved it was only by accident. But Horford’s a high-efficiency scorer. He can shoot if you give it to him, but he’s capable of big numbers around the basket, too. Jeff Teague was the closest thing they had to a rim attack before Horford (based on how Josh Smith was conducting himself).

Look: everyone on this site predicted that this series would go six games except Pina (sorry to dog you like that, Pina). So did most of the pickers in the Truehoop Stat Geek Showdown. A Game 5 loss is nothing to call the cops over. But looking at how the Hawks have evolved Lamarck-style with Horford coming back, winning in six games looks more like a necessity than a luxury. This series reminds me, not in a good way, of that ubiquitous Kevin Millar quote after the Sox were down 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS.

“Don’t let us win tonight. They’ve got to win because if we win we’ve got Petie coming back today and then Schilling will pitch Game 6 and then you can take that fraud stuff and put it to bed. Don’t let the Sox win this game.”

You’re probably like, “That was a 3-0 series. This one is 3-2, you idiot. Obviously you don’t let them win.” I understand that. I’m just saying the potential for a comeback from 3-1 is there. Apply it to last night’s game, I guess: you let them win that game, then you’re going back to Boston where the home-court advantage is probably neutralized by the additional fatigue and Horford’s reemergence. A loss there and a return to Atlanta would, needless to say, suck.

Again, resist calling the cops over Game 5. If you predicted a six-game series like everyone else, you implicitly predicted a Game 5 loss. But a six-game series is essential now. Don’t let them win tonight.

 

  • I_Love_Green

    One man, Al Horford, wanted that win more than our entire team.

    THAT'S what pisses me off the most about that loss last night.

  • High Rollers

    This core always seems to insist on fighting from the ropes.

    Time to switch up the metaphor and enjoy the driver's seat!

    Is it tip-off yet?!?!?!?

  • ElRoz

    Well, of course one can never predict the outcome. For me the Celtics are an expected favorite to win game 6 at home. They won game 6 in 2008 finals, they won game 6 in 2010 against Cleveland and LeBron; they won game 6 the next series agaisnt Orlando when everybody was scared that Orlando won 2 in a row. If the Celtics play concerted and attentive Defense; and Rondo pushes the ball, they will win the game and Al Horford and the rest will not know where the intensity for the C's came from or where Atlanta's went. And and Bass will make the other side work and work. That is what I expect. It is not a guaranty, and not even a prediction, but this is what I would expect to see.

  • skeeds

    Damn it. My concern with the resurrection of Horford, (good for him, great guy, love his game, but damn), is that it brings up a principal problem with the C's.
    We cannot afford a team that has strong scorers on both the 4 and 5. It's the weak spot of having KG at the 5. As long as the other team has either a great scoring 4 or 5, KG will shut them down easily, as he has, against Miami or Orlando for example…
    Now, that was not a huge gamble off course. The only 3 teams I can think of that fit that bill are Memphis, LA, and the Hawks, who weren't supposed to have Horford back anyway…
    Bottom line, dealing with their frontline will be hard, as it should be expected. We need to attack the other matchups.

    Not worried, after all it did take a monster effort from them to get a 1 point win at home, but just "wanting" it ain't enough. Beating them has always been a puzzle, much more than other, even better teams. Won't matter much when Rondo goes into playoff beast mode tonight though.

  • W2.

    A healthy Al Horford is the best player on the Hawks and a matchup nightmare for the Celts (Bass is showing his spots….which have always been there).

    Fingers and toes crossed for a dominant performance in all phases of the game from our C's. PP and RR need to be at their best. Roll Celts!

  • Josh

    Horford is not 100%, and this needs to be addressed. He was running on adrenaline, and the energy of the home crowd. He's only got 1 day of turnaround to rest and he is going to be sooooooore. Very sore. I will bet anyone on here $1,000 he doesnt put up as good of numbers as he did in Game 5. Celtics win Game 6.

    • tbunny

      I'm not a trainer but Horford is young and looks like he's in great shape. The celtics should be ready for him to play just as well.

  • Anthony

    As well as Horford played, there were other issues that I think needs to be addressed. ATL hit 4 straight 3s in the 2nd quarter which was partially due to missed rotations. Marvin Williams hit 3 baseline 3s which came from Pierce's slow rotation. Pierce should be more rested so I don't see him being slow on those rotations in tonight's game. Also with Celts up 4 in the 4th, Josh Smith knocked down a few long jumpers and hit the offensive glass hard. I can live with it if he keeps taking those jumpers.

    All that being said, Pierce will play well, Rondo will be triple-double territory, Bass' effort and energy will continue to progress, KG will maintain his stellar play, and Celts will prevail in a 10+ points victory. Bring on Philly!

  • tbunny

    Honestly I only watched the first quarter of that game and went to sleep because I had a bad feeling.

    For whatever reason the Celtics have a problem winning games when they feel like it's not totally necessary. Now maybe guys were hurt, but it looked like an annoying loss from the outset.

    • Josh

      Im not gonna rant on you bunny, but KG and Ray are way too professional to let a game go. KG is always intense and Ray is always reliable. Those 2 I know were focused in last nites game. I worry about Rondo's focus sometimes and Pierce looked like he didnt give a $hit.

    • Anthony

      The Celts played great in the 1st quarter of Game 5. If anything, you should've thought that the Celts would take care of business and won easily.

      Hopefully you dont have bad feeling about game 6.

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