“Hey, Coach Drew… are you there? It’s me, Al Horford…”
Peachtree’s Jason Walker already summed this game up very well. When you are in the playoffs, and you have the opportunity to take game one on the road, you cannot have your best player sitting on the bench.
However, that is what happened. Al Horford only played 28 minutes, a large contributing factor in a 107-90 loss to Indiana.
It wasn’t the only thing, to be fair. Josh Smith was his usual jumper-happy self, which was only compounded when he appeared to get hurt in the 2nd half. At that point, he just looked like he wasn’t able to compete; twice he found himself under the rim with the ball, and he passed out of it both times. You can hate Josh for his shot selection, but you cannot deny that a normal, healthy Josh Smith would have gone up and dunked the basketball on those plays.
The Pacers, however, found their advantages on offense and stuck to them. Paul George drove into the lane with reckless abandon, rewarding him with 18 free throw attempts on the night. Tyler Hansbrough had five offensive rebounds off the bench, including a stretch in the fourth quarter that absolutely stymied a possible Atlanta comeback.
Pacer point guard George Hill also did a lot of damage. He took advantage of Jeff Teague’s poor defensive efforts, scoring a quick 15 points. Those points gave Indiana a double-digit lead in the first quarter, a quarter which saw the Pacers score 34 points. This was a deficit that the Hawks never seemed to be able to overcome.
However, in the minds of many, this game was decided in that second quarter when Larry Drew sat Al Horford for the remainder of the half. Al Horford, the first Hawk to average a double-double in a decade and was recently name one of the top 20 players in the league by ESPN’s NBA Rank… only played 28 minutes in a critical playoff game.
Let’s take a look back at last season for a second. Last year, the Hawks were playing the Celtics in the first round, and it didn’t look too good. Zaza Pachulia was out, Josh Smith had a gimpy knee, and Al Horford was still recovering from surgery. Erick Dampier and Jason Collins were seeing critical minutes.
Horford came back to action earlier than he should have. This was evidenced by his slow start to this season on his jump shot and his free throws. However, Horford didn’t come back to play a minor role. In the final two games of that series, Al played 41 and 46 minutes. Horford won the Hawks game five in that series with his play in the second half and with his defense on Rajon Rondo on the last play of the game. In game six, you could tell he was laboring to try and keep his team alive.
Al is healthy this season. He may have had a few ailments here and there, but otherwise, there is no reason for him to be playing less-than 36 minutes in a playoff game. He’s your star player, the face of the franchise, and a leader on and off the court; there’s no reason for him to be glued to the bench when the team has a realistic chance to steal a game on the road.
But above all else, it represented a poor way to repay him for the effort he gave in those three playoff games last season, and Coach Drew deserves every criticism that comes his way because of it.