Quick Thought: There aren't enough words to describe my man-love for Al Horford. Boss.
A back and forth game that rewarded whichever team went to the basket and penalized the teams that settled for jump shots.
But all events that preceded paled in comparison to what was, while not technically, most certainly practically, the final play of the game.
After Eric Bledsoe made two foul shots, putting the Clippers up one, the Hawks ran Joe Johnson off a pick and he rolled to the right side, hoping to get room for a floater. The room never materialized but Johnson tried to lean back to create the space himself, making him easy prey for a shot blocked, which is what happened when Joe tried to force it anyway.
In the fight for the rebound, the ball appeared to go off Joe's leg and out of bounds, which would have set up a certain end-game free throw and desperate three to tie situation for the Hawks, but the officials couldn't agree on what happened and then, even after consulting replay to resolve, still couldn't determine possession, leading to a jump ball.
Joe easily controlled the tip to Marvin Williams, who was promtply flattened by Baron Davis. But the Clippers had a precious foul to give, leaving the Hawks 3.3 seconds to get back on top.
The inbounds play came to Horford at the top right elbow, presumably to hand off to Jamal Crawford for a last second shot. But the Clippers overplayed the handoff, and Horford, sensing the overplay, immediately spun and headed to the hoop. With nothing between he and victory but two strides away, Al went in for the game clinching dunk. Instead, Blake Griffin hustled over and challenged the shot, but to get there he had to give up control of his momentum and, while attempting to stay vertical, that momentum crashed into Al as Horford was fully extended for the two-hand jam---absolutely defenseless.
The shot did not go in, a foul was whistled, and Horford landed as hard and square on his tailbone as one can diagram. As Horford (and Griffin) lay on the floor like a two-car traffic accident, the officials determined that what Griffin had committed was indeed, a Flagrant one foul. But with Horford still on the ground, and .6 seconds left on the clock, such an advantage seemed inconsequential.
Should Horford be unable to shoot, certainly Vinnie Del Negro would have pulled Etan Thomas or some such cold bench player out onto the floor to shoot these final two critical free throws. Even if Horford were to tough it out, who could blame him if he were errant in his attempts?
Horford ambled to his feet and stood at the free throw line, staring down the now vacant lane. A man, alone, with the game in his hands.
First free throw: Good. Tie game
The clincher: No doubt. Ballgame.
Now, with possession more advantageous to the Hawks, they inbounded and headed to the locker room winners, thanks to a massively clutch All-Star, Horford.
Heroics alone should land you here, but Al Horford was also key in establishing a sizable lead in the third quarter, as he used 5-6 shooting to score a 10 point, 5 rebound quarter. Al also introduced Blake Griffin to Eastern Conference defense, playing a large part in Griffin's relative anonymity throughout the game. For the game, Al 9-14, 23 points, and 12 rebounds, 7 of which were offensive. All-Star.
He giveth as much as he taketh away, but when Jamal Crawford is hot, whoa buddy, it's fun to watch. His 6-6 shooting in the third quarter, along with Al's buddy-cop production, swung the game from Clipper control and put the home team in the fabled catbird's seat. When he cooled off, the game came back to even, but offensively, he produced more per minute as any other Hawk for the game, mostly due to the 34 points he poured in.
In any other game, Joe Johnson's quiet flirtation with a triple-double would have gotten more run, but with the late game drama, Jamal's hot shooting, and a 2-10 second half for himself, Johnson's 17 point, 9 rebound, 9 assist night took a back seat.
Every time the Hawks play the Clippers, I remind myself of the 200 point beatdown (caution: exaggeration!) Los Angeles administered a few years back. Also, it makes me happy that Al Thornton is no longer a Clipper. Whew.
The Hawks nearly got beat due to their usual hang-ups: poor perimeter defense, slack transition defense, and a sometimes love affair with the long jump shot. But they didn't, so nyeahh to me!
Exit Question: With so many tough, close wins, does it make the Hawks battle tested come playoff time or just vulnerable?