Al Horford entered the NBA as a veteran. Since joining the Hawks in 2007, the team has made four consecutive Playoff appearances, including a 2008 statement seven-game series against the eventual champion Boston Celtics that announced the arrival of both the Hawks and Horford.
After receiving his fifth consecutive All-Star selection and second with teammate Horford, Hawks guard Joe Johnson said, “It means a lot, it goes to show how far we’ve come as a team, as an organization and I just think it’s been nothing but positive since Big Al’s got here.”
The Hawks are currently up 3-1 against the same team that swept them in last season’s conference semifinals. While many want the Hawks to play into the theme of retribution for last season’s loss, this year’s series doesn’t represent a change in mindset, but rather a change in matchups. The Hawks are continuing to have success against a team they defeated three of four times during the regular season.
While the Hawks have kept their core together, the Magic’s offseason moves and midseason trade saw the loss of key perimeter defenders Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes as well as backup center Marcin Gortat. Asked whether the trade provided more favorable matchups for Atlanta, Horford says, “Even before then, I think that when we played them the first time, before the trade and all that, I think that putting me at the four and putting a bigger guy at the five worked better for us.”
Horford has spent the majority of his career playing as an undersized center, but his tenacity at the position and mindset he brings to the team have not gone unnoticed by coaches around the League.
It is a common occurrence for visiting coaches to shower unprompted praise on Atlanta’s fourth-year center during pre and postgame media sessions.
Before the Celtics’ last regular season game against the Hawks, coach Doc Rivers said, “They’re an inverted transition team. You don’t see it very often where the bigs outrun the guards. Their bigs fly. Horford, I don’t know what motor he runs on, but it’s amazing. I love him, I love watching him. I was just telling someone, of all the All-Stars, coaching the All-Star team, he was hands down—it was’t even close—my favorite guy. Just the way he carries himself. He made a comment to me, ‘Coach, don’t worry about playing me, I just want to play one stint. This is about the stars.’ And I said, ‘You know, you’re one of those guys.’ Man he’s so unassuming—and you knew it was for real.”