The Atlanta Hawks dropped their first game in the NBA Playoffs, losing by a score of 107-90 to the Indiana Pacers in game one of their series. Paul George’s performance, one that earned him a triple-double, caused problems for the Hawks as did the energy off the Pacers’ bench. However, the main problem for the Hawks was the fact that they went away from their star, Al Horford.
There’s absolutely no question that Horford is the best player on this Atlanta team. Night after night he has run out onto the floor and done his best to carry this team and his numbers back that up. In 37.2 minutes per game, Horford put up 17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals while shooting 54.3 percent from the field. By averaging a double-double, Horford became the first Hawks player to do so since Dikembe Mutombo 13 seasons ago.
It’s hard to argue that Horford is the heart of this team. That’s why it makes it all the more perplexing that Horford played just 28 minutes in this game, playing just 15 in the first half and only 13 in the second half. The decreased second half minutes are due to the fact that the game was out of Atlanta’s hands, but most of it is due to just a poor decision on the part of head coach Larry Drew.
There really is no justification for the decision to leave Horford on the bench. In his limited minutes, he was still able to put up 14 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block on 58.3 percent, so it wasn’t based on his performance. It really boils down to an inexplicable and terrible decision on the part of Drew.
More than that, Horford wasn’t even focused on that often when he was on the floor in the second half as the Hawks tried to make a run to come back. In his paltry 13 minutes that he played his usage percentage was only 21 percent, lower than the usage percentages of Jeff Teague, Josh Smith, Kyle Korver and Shelvin Mack in the second half. That can’t happen if the Hawks want to have a chance at upsetting Indiana.
Drew has to give Horford substantial minutes as this series progresses. Anything not near his season average of 37.2 minutes per game is simply unacceptable for the Hawks. Horford showed that he can be successful, even when matched up with the much larger Roy Hibbert. He’s the most reliable option that Atlanta has, but he’s not going to help them if he’s on the bench for 20 minutes during a game. Plainly, that can’t happen anymore.