If not for Al Horford’s put-back lay-up at the end of Game 5, the Atlanta Hawks would be facing a must-win scenario Friday in Washington. Instead, the Hawks, who lead the Eastern Conference semifinals 3-2, have a bit of a cushion. If they cannot close out the Wizards in Game 6, they’ll have another opportunity in Game 7 in Atlanta.
Wow, what a clutch play from Horford.
“He’s a winner,” Hawks television play-by-play man Bob Rathbun said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “That’s what he did at Florida – back-to-back national championships, played the same way. He has brought that to the Hawks. He sets the screen on the weak side to get a three and comes from literally the opposite side to go crashing in to get that ball. (Paul) Millsap takes two guys out, clears the way, boom, ends up in his lap, he lays it in, bingo. Ball game.”
Horford finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in Game 5, hitting jumpers and controlling the paint, especially in the fourth quarter. He was fearless.
“Well, you look at his game, and it has really expanded under Coach Bud,” Rathbun said. “Millsap was saying they were not three-point shooters at all and they have come into this system, and it is encouraged by the bigs. I think it gives Atlanta a very unique aspect that a lot of teams don’t have. Bigs that can space the floor, can run the floor, great athletes – (it) gives them a different look than most teams offer. I think this is a team that is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. You take one guy out of the mix and they’re not as good. But all five of them together, they’re pretty awesome.”
Millsap had 14 points and seven rebounds, while DeMarre Carroll had a double-double, finishing with 10 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks.
The guy does it all.
“He’s had a great playoff series,” Rathbun said. “He’s been scoring the ball as well as he ever has in his career. He had a string of 20-point games. That was Dominique Wilkins two decades ago. So he’s really putting together a great playoff series – and what a great summer to have a playoff series because he’s going to be an unrestricted free agent and I can already hear the cash register ringing in the background.”
The Hawks are now one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals, which should quiet some of the doubters who said the Hawks are the weakest No. 1 seed of all time. Of course, the Hawks couldn’t care less about the naysayers, especially since they are beloved in their home town.
“The city of Atlanta has fallen in love with this team,” Rathbun said. “They absolutely are mesmerized by the way this team plays. Now they were a little upset because they think that they should be doing this every night, (but) in the playoffs, it’s not that way. The game slows down, they get more physical. But I thought it was a terrific sign to silence the doubters last night. The fact that they won a game that was in a meat-grinder – 82-81 – that’s not their kind of basketball. And when you’ve got to buckle down defensively like the Hawks did last night and win that kind of game – especially as dead in the water as they were at the beginning of the fourth quarter – I think speaks volumes about how good of a team they had.
“I’ve always felt like the versatility of a team is how many different ways can you win,” Rathbun continued. “Can you win a high-scoring game? Can you win a shootout? Can you win a grinder? Can you win a game where you commit a lot of turnovers? You go right down the list, and in this playoffs with Brooklyn and with Washington, check all the boxes. They’ve won every kind of way you can win. And I thought the Brooklyn series really helped prepare them for a game like last night. The only way Brooklyn could stay with them was to grind it out, slow it down, muck it up, and I thought it served them well (Wednesday) night when they were faced with that kind of a game.”