Al Horford: The Superstar the Atlanta Hawks Need


As the Atlanta Hawks marched (and sometimes sprinted) their way to a 60-win season, they gained enormous respect throughout the NBA and rejuvenated a broken down fan base. Yet although their season was flaunted by many, few gave the Hawks a chance to make much noise in the playoffs.

Whether it came from the media, players or fans, most people couldn’t seem to buy the Hawks as a legitimate title threat due to one simple factor: they don’t have a superstar talent on the team.

I remember vividly as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said he did not buy the Hawks as a true title contender late in the regular season. He went out of his way, to be fair, to say that he did see an energized fan base and a very good basketball team, but due to the lack of a superstar player to carry the team on his back when everything falls apart, he did not see the Hawks as a championship caliber team.

What Smith hinted at that is certainly true is the fact that everything is harder in the playoffs. It’s harder to score, harder to shoot, harder to pass, harder to defend and harder to keep emotions in check. Everything is elevated. When your gameplan crumbles, when the crowd is too loud, when your coach is flustered and the calls are not going your way what do you do?

In those situations stars are born. There are players that thrive in those kinds of situations and truly rise above the rest to will their teams to victory. The names that hang on banners in arena rafters around the league represent players of that ilk.

Many people didn’t think the Hawks had that type of player, but in fairness how would they know? The Hawks have never stuck around long enough in the playoffs to really be put in that type of situation, until now. That moment came in game five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Washington Wizards.

The Wizards, featuring the clutch-shooting and show-boating Paul Pierce as well as the frightening tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal, had the Hawks on their heels. Atlanta opened up the fourth quarter in dreadful position and were turning the ball over as often as they were missing shots. The chips were down, the arena was flat and the team was crumbling.

Nothing was seeming to work for head coach Mike Budenholzer and the Wizards built up a seven point lead. Enter Al Horford.

Horford is in his eighth season with the team and has been to the playoffs every one of those seasons with the Hawks. He has been a consistent player when healthy and possesses the type of character that any general manager in the league would want to build a team around.

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Horford showed well throughout most of the game, but was struggling late along with his teammates. Then, he rose above. He found that mythical other gear that big time players find in crunch time and rallied his team back.

He found his mid-range jumper, hit a three point shot from the corner and scored the game-winning bucket with under two seconds to play in the game.

Before the winning bucket, Horford came out of nowhere to snatch the rebound away from multiple Wizard players, knocking down some of them in the process. This moment proved symbolic as the Hawks closed out the series in Washington D.C. and advanced Friday night.

That play alone was Al Horford’s announcement as the anchor of this team. While the Hawks are still built as a team beyond one man, Horford has shown that he has what it takes to be “the guy” when the game is on the line.

As the Hawks enter uncharted territory in the Eastern Conference Finals against the superstar tandem of Lebron James and Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, they will undoubtedly need more performances like that from Horford.