Remember when I wrote this impassioned plea to Kevin Garnett prior to game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals? You probably don’t, but watching KG control the Celtics’ fate on both ends with a phenomenal statline of 28 points on 19 field goal attempts, 2 assists with just 1 turnover, 14 rebounds, 5 blocked shots, and 3 steals, I sure did. THAT is what I called for in that title game (of course shooting over the top of Horford and Smith is a bit easier than shooting over the top of Gasol and Bynum). The point is: I knew the Big Ticket had that game locked inside him, and it was very nice to see him break it out one more time. The go-ahead turnaround jumper in the paint wasn’t bad either!
We should also show respect to the Hawks for the season that they had. Neil Paine nominated Larry Drew for the Coach of the Year award in our season wrap-up podcast, and he had a point. This is a team that we all ignored in the regular season and wrote-off coming into this series, but when you consider what they accomplished this season without Al Horford, it’s hard not to be impressed. Watching how important Al is to their team on both ends, you really have to hand it to Drew and the team for finding ways to win.
Horford spaces the floor for Smith and the guards to drive. He is their only consistent low-post scoring option. He is a mobile, versatile defender who bangs in the paint and moves his feet on the perimeter. Without Horford, the team plays undersized but quick or full-sized but slow. With Horford, they play a mobile, hostile, agile line-up that also sports good size and strength. Hoo-haa! For Atlanta to have earned the home court advantage in the first round without this linchpin of their team is really a laudable accomplishment. And you could see the change in the team’s confidence with Al on the court in this series against Boston. Considering how close some of the final scores were, it’s not far-fetched to say that Horford’s presence may have altered the outcome of the series entirely.
I hope the handful of fans who follow the Hawks are feeling optimistic about next year, because this could be a top 3 team in the East next year with a little health and some solid offseason moves.
Meanwhile, Celtics fans can breathe a brief sigh of relief and gear up for another defensive grind-out with the Sixers. The speedy wings and deep bench of the Sixers will be tough for the Celtics to handle, and they’ll need to rely on Rondo and KG to create offense with the Igudala guarding a hobbled Paul Pierce. If Boston can handle business and take the series as expected, this will be good preparation for the Heat or Pacers because it will get the team in the habit of avoiding turnovers and controlling the tempo of the game.