The Al Horford End

Last year the Hawks won a franchise record 60 games and faced the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. It went pretty much like everyone thought. The Cavs dominated the gritty little team of three point shooters on their way to the NBA Finals while the city of Atlanta celebrated a great year and grieved an awful performance, all the while toting out the tired line of , “we’ll be back next year.”

This year against the Cavs, the Hawks aren’t even gritty. They are bystanders at their own basketball funeral, impotent and nearly comatose and the usual narrative of being over matched doesn’t even apply. It would be one thing if the Hawks were recklessly fighting tooth and nail, giving everything they have. But they are cheating the game with their apathetic interest, as if they know what everyone else knows. This series was over before it even started.

The Hawks have never beaten the Cavs in the playoffs. Ever. You would think that would be motivation enough to try to do something that has never been done, a historic dance into worlds never crossed. Or, you would think the Hawks would try to not end Al Horford’s career with an embarrassment like this. But, the Hawks can’t get out of their own way and on Sunday LeBron James will kill this dog that can’t hunt.

So motivated by giving up 25 three pointers and allowing a record to be set, and oh yeah, getting punked by 30 points while the other team laughs and dances and clowns you, and then whining about it afterwards like a 7 year old who got pushed face first in the dirt, the Hawks came home and gave up 21 three pointers, turning Channing Frye into a superstar (for one game) on their way to a fourth quarter annihilation.

Sunday is when it is all going to end and for the public who had to watch this atrocity, outside of the desperate Cavs fans, the mercy rule will be in effect. Al Horford’s Atlanta career will be over on Sunday. You can count the hours he has left.

The Hawks are going to be a story not many will remember, good enough once upon a time but not enough depth or players or heart or defense to even win one game against LeBron James. The Hawks need to break the entire group up. Send Kyle Korver elsewhere. Keep Paul Millsap for his toughness. Hand things over to Denis Schroder. And then start the whole thing over. But you know Atlanta. Change the men. Rewrite the same ending.

There are no prizes for loyalty and decency and class, that won’t advance you through the playoffs so Al Horford is out of luck. He has had to endure more of the same, and because there is no such thing as morality in sports, no happy endings, you have to earn everything, Horford will be on the outside looking in for another post season.

Horford was drafted 3rd in 2007, a NCAA champion who played center despite being undersized. Polite to a fault, in both wins and losses since his first game against the Dallas Mavericks (9 points, 10 rebounds), Horford is the adult in the room who has perspective but even he can’t spin this disaster.

Horford has been in the playoffs every single year of his career and so he has been very, very lucky but it’s been more agony than ecstasy each April and May. You know the Horford bio. He’s going to get eliminated. In nine post seasons, he has been to the Conference Finals once. His season will end on Sunday.

Al Hoford’s career playoff PER is 16.9, much less than his regular season PER of 19.1. This season, his Real Plus-Minus ranks him 8th among all centers but 23rd in defensive impact. That’s a measurement destined to keep Horford out of a NBA Final. His job as defensive anchor is to set the tone and his leadership is supposed to get his teammates to play hard; neither has happened.

The Hawks Defensive Rating for this series is 126.9 while the Cavs rate 109. The Cavs defense improves from game to game while, shocker, the Hawks defense regresses, particular on the wing. The Cavs have taken 115 threes in this series, making 61, a 53% clip. The Hawks have taken 95 threes, making 38. The Hawks 40% efficiency is a good percentage if you aren’t playing defense with your eyes closed. From the 3-point line, the Cavs have outscored the Hawks by 69 points.

On Friday night it was Channing Frye who was near perfect after taking advice from teammate James Jones to not pass but to shoot. But if ever there was a metaphor for the Hawks inexplicable ineptitude, it was leaving LeBron James open for a three. It gave the Cavs the lead with six minutes to play. Everyone in Phillips Arena knew that was the game and the series and Al Hoford’s Atlanta career.

Horford may be in Orlando next year or in Los Angeles or somewhere else that will overpay him and he’ll be a good player but he can’t be the best player on a team. If that is the case, he’ll have more memories like this. In the playoffs and suddenly out the playoffs. It is the Al Hoford consistency.


photo via llananba