Horford-Less Hawks Still a Challenge for C's

WALTHAM, Mass. – Eleven months ago, the Boston Celtics’ season took a 180 when Rajon Rondo tore the ACL in his right knee during a game in Atlanta.

The Hawks and Celtics are scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, but this time around, Atlanta is the team that has had its season turned upside down by a devastating injury.

Avery Bradley defends Kyle Korver

Avery Bradley and the rest of the Celtics will need to keep close tabs on Kyle Korver, who's attempting even more 3s with Al Horford on the sideline.
Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty Images

Atlanta lost starting center Al Horford on Thursday to a torn right pectoral muscle. Horford, a two-time NBA All-Star who leads the Hawks in both scoring (18.6 points per game) and rebounding (8.4 rebounds per game), is out indefinitely. He missed four months with the same injury to his left pectoral muscle in 2012.

The Hawks didn’t have much time to marinate in the bad news, as they returned to the court for a back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday. Atlanta split those contests by downing Charlotte 118-116 and then falling to Orlando by a score of 109-102.

Recovering from a long-term injury to an elite player is not an easy task for any team. Avery Bradley knows that first-hand thanks to Rondo’s injury in January. However, Bradley also realizes that such injuries can be a rallying cry.

“I feel like when you lose a player you almost want to go out and play even harder for that guy that went down,” Bradley said before discussing Atlanta’s circumstances in particular. “Even though they don’t have Horford and he’s a big part of their team, they’re still playing good basketball right now. They’re a good team and we have to come out and be ready for tomorrow.”

There are two reasons why the Hawks would still be considered as a good team. First and foremost, they have some other guys stepping up to fill in for Horford.

Former All-Star Elton Brand is Atlanta’s new starting center. Though he is putting up meager numbers of 5.0 PPG and 3.0 RPG in that role, he has made half of his shots and taken care of the ball. The Hawks are also using rookie Pero Antic much more than they had been. He had played 20 or more minutes just once this season prior to Horford’s injury, but he has averaged 21.0 minutes a game since Horford went down.

Brand and Antic are two of many Hawks players who will now have an increased role on the team. As Kris Humphries said on Monday, this is the way the NBA operates. When one guy goes down, others need to step up.

“I’ve always operated under kind of saying it’s someone else’s opportunity,” Humphries said. “When someone gets hurt, it’s another guy’s opportunity to show what he’s been working on, show what he’s been doing in practice and that he’s ready.”

Atlanta is having other players step up, but that’s not the only reason why it remains competitive. The Hawks are also playing at a much higher tempo and are relying heavily on the 3-point shot.

“They’re shooting a ton of 3s,” said Brad Stevens. “I think the league leader is at 30 percent (of a team’s field goals being 3-pointers) and in their last few games they’re over 40 (percent).”

Stevens is right on the money. Over their last three games, two of which were played without Horford, the Hawks have attempted 40.7 percent of their field goals from beyond the arc. The majority of those attempts are coming from Kyle Korver, who has made a 3-pointer in an NBA-record 100 consecutive games, as well as Jeff Teague and Lou Williams.

“They’re all shooting, and they’re all shooting well and they’re all shooting with confidence,” said Stevens.

Brewing confidence is just one reason why Boston won’t take Atlanta lightly. The Hawks are figuring out how to be an effective team without their star, just like the Celtics did 11 months ago.