BOSTON -- Game 4 was the return of Josh Smith for the Atlanta Hawks, and, unexpectedly, the return of Al Horford as well.
Smith was expected to play after missing Game 3 with a knee injury. Horford, though, had ruled out playing with a torn left pectoral muscle. But with the Hawks facing a 2-1 deficit to the Boston Celtics, coach Larry Drew announced Horford would be active prior to the game.
Horford took the court on Sunday for the first game since January 11.
We knew that it would be a game-time decision, Drew said following the Celtics 101-79 win. After he warmed up, wed see how he felt. He came in after he warmed up and said he felt good, that he wanted to give it a go. So right then and there I knew that I would give him some minutes. My plan was to play him about five minutes a quarter, just to get his legs, get his wind a little bit. He actually got out there and said that he felt pretty good so I played him just a little bit longer.
Horford checked in with just over five minutes left in the first quarter. Seven seconds later, he was called for an offensive foul against Greg Stiemsma. He finished the first half with six points, two rebounds, an assist, and two fouls.
The big man settled in during the third quarter, adding on another six points and three boards. He finished the game with 12 points (6-10 FG), five rebounds, a pair of fouls, as well as an assist and turnover. Horford clocked 20 minutes, the most since January 9.
In the second half, after starting him in the third quarter, he got into a pretty good rhythm were he felt good, said Drew. Therefore I decided to just wait and play him in the third quarter and if we could put a dent in the score, Id play him in the fourth. Obviously we werent able to do that so I decided to sit him in that fourth quarter. He said he did feel pretty good, and I thought he did a good job coming back after being gone for three-plus months. I thought he did a good job tonight.
Horford had been considering if he would play since the series began. Without him and fellow center Zaza Pachulia, the Hawks had been shorthanded down low. The Celtics, who struggled on the boards this season, outrebounded the Hawks in their Game 2 and 3 wins.
I felt okay, just excited to be back, said Horford. I wanted to be a gametime decision because in the past two weeks I kept going back and forth on whether or not I was going to be able to play. Finally, I felt good enough and confident enough to go out there.
Horford is taking the wait-and-see approach for Game 5 on Tuesday in Atlanta. Even if he decides he cannot play, he will be with him team to support them in an elimination battle.
Well see how I feel Monday, he said. Either way, Im going to be supporting the team. If I can play, I will. If not, then Ill be there to support them like I have all year.