Al Horford's putback spoiled John Wall's return from injury in the Atlanta Hawks' 82-81 Game 5 win over the Washington Wizards.

By DeAntae Prince
May 14, 2015

Al Horford stood in front of a camera with bewilderment written all over his face. Fresh off an emotional win that left him speechless, Horford said few words but his facial expressions spoke volumes.

The second question posed by TNT's David Aldridge was simple, yet it was the toughest to answer. Asked how the Hawks managed to win a game in which they missed threes and posted more turnovers than assists, Horford's initial response was honest but offered little. "I don't know," he said in a postgame interview. "I really don't know."

Moments later Horford was informed that he became the first Hawks player to post 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a playoff game. Typically mild mannered once the game is over and the lights are off, Horford raised his eyebrows high and stood in awe of himself for an instant.

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He had earned such a moment. Horford finished Atlanta's thrilling 82–81 Game 5 win on Wednesday night with 23 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks. Six of his boards came off the offensive glass, including a game-deciding rebound and score that secured the Hawks' 3-2 series lead over the Washington Wizards

[daily_cut.NBA]Horford served as one of few wire-to-wire net positives for an Atlanta team that prides itself on performing as a collective. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap committed a combined 13 turnovers and Kyle Korver struggled to find daylight for shots.  

But the Hawks had more to work against than themselves. The return of John Wall and late-game heroics of Paul Pierce nearly cost them a critical victory.

While Wall was out with fractures in his left hand and wrist, Washington leaned heavily on Pierce and Bradley Beal. Wall's return meant Pierce and Beal could relinquish ball-handling duties and return to their scoring positions on the wings. As if that wasn't daunting enough, there was still the issue of corralling Wall.  

The Wizards played admirably without their star point guard. They managed to win one of three games, but it was clear that something was missing. Wall's ability to dictate pace and see the unseeable was lacking on offense, which was clear from the very moment Wall touched the ball on Wednesday. 

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The first clear sign that Wall would be OK with the injured hand came on a fast break early in the first quarter, when he used his left hand for an in-and-out move, drove hard, and finished with the broken hand. 

Two more Wall passes in the first quarter provided the kind of offense Washington just couldn't replicate during his absence. Wall stepped back toward the free-throw line on one play and found a cutting teammate under the rim, then drove baseline to thread a pass to Marcin Gortat on another.

Wall finished the game with 15 points, seven assists, and four steals. Despite the minor turnover and shooting issues he faced while gutting through injury, Wall's impact on the game was immeasurable. 

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Yet his return couldn't overcome what Horford offered the Hawks. Both teams went on runs, with Horford and Wall each serving as linchpins during big shifts in the game. Washington finished the first half on a 19-6 run, before Atlanta answered with its own 10-0 run to start the third quarter. 

But that onslaught wouldn't last, and Atlanta struggled to start the pivotal fourth quarter. It started the period 0-of-6 shooting from the field with four turnovers. Atlanta's offense is predicated by the pass more often than most. During this stretch, the Hawks struggled to complete passes and threw them off target when they did reach the intended target. 

Atlanta played through the first five minutes without posting a field goal and finally got on the board with a Millsap free throw at 6:35 to make the score 71-64. 

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Mike Budenholzer's decision to place DeMarre Carroll on Wall coupled with two big threes from Korver and Horford changed the complexion of the game when Atlanta needed it most.

As has been the case all series, however, Pierce had an answer. Wizards coach Randy Wittman designed an out-of-bounds play that worked through Beal and made it to Pierce in the corner. He knocked down a three-pointer to give Washington what appeared to be yet another dagger. 

Horford wouldn't have it. After Dennis Schroder's drive ended in a missed layup, Horford cleaned up the miss and put in one of the easiest game-winning finishes you're going to see. Once again, Horford had made the right play and served as Atlanta's stabilizing force.

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