There were four seconds left in the game, the Atlanta Hawks and the Cleveland Cavaliers were tied, and arguably the best player in the NBA, LeBron James, had the ball at the top of the key. Joe Johnson was doing his very best to keep James out of the paint, but it was pretty obvious that he was headed that way regardless.
Only Hawks center Al Horford stood between a winning basket for the Cavaliers and a possible Hawks victory.
James maneuvered past Johnson, got to Horford, and attempted to elevate for a shot, but Horford jumped as well. By the time they both hit the ground, there were 1.6 seconds left, and the referee had blown the whistle. James was headed to the foul line, and Horford was called for his third personal foul.
James hit one of two free throws, Johnson missed a potential game winning shot, and the Cavaliers went on to win the game, 88-87.
After the game, a distraught Horford was still in disbelief over the game-deciding call.
“It was unfortunate the way the game ended,” Horford said to the media after the game, choosing his words carefully. “He came to me. I kept my arms straight. The refs felt it was a foul.”
Despite Horford’s disappointment over both the foul call and the outcome of the game, there was no time to dwell on it. There was another game the very next night in Washington, D.C. against the lowly Washington Wizards. The Hawks went directly to the airport, and the plan was to fly into D.C. in the early hours of Monday morning.
It didn’t quite happen that way.
Due to a monstrous snowstorm that wreaked havoc on the entire East Coast from Atlanta, Georgia, to Boston, Massachusetts, the Hawks were forced to sit on the runway in Atlanta for nearly six hours. There were planes ahead of them that were stuck, and the Hawks’ plane was forced to de-ice numerous times.
Despite the lengthy delay, Horford still found ways to occupy himself. Barely.
“I watched two DVDs that I had from one of my shows that I watch, went to sleep, woke up… no joke, then played cards with the guys, went back to sleep, and we still were there. We were there for 5-6 hours on the plane just sitting there, and I was going crazy.”
The Hawks’ team plane arrived in Washington, D.C. a little after 5:30 am, but as Horford told Hoops Addict, the madness didn’t stop there.
“Finally when we got here, you know, it’s kind of a long ride from the airport way out to the hotel. That was another trip,” Horford recalled. “I didn’t get to the hotel until like 6:30, didn’t get to bed until 7, and I woke up around 1 or 2.”
Just a few short hours after Horford and the Hawks awakened from their respective slumbers, they arrived at the Verizon Center, did their normal pre-game routine, prepared for tipoff. Then, at 7 pm sharp, the same starting Atlanta Hawks lineup that had a victory snatched from them by the Eastern Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers, was now about to do battle with the Washington Wizards–the worst team in the conference.
After one half of basketball, Horford was playing relatively well (10 points and 4 rebounds) but the Hawks as a team looked flat, and they were only leading the Wizards by a point, 46-45.
Horford had his own theory as to what the problem was during the first two quarters.
“It’s a big difference when you get in early, [than] when you get in late,” Horford later told Hoops Addict after the game. “But we just rested and I tried to do my regular pre-game routine. But we really had to try and create our own energy early in the game.”
In the second half, the Hawks played with much more energy and outscored the Wizards 53-44. At one point before they removed their starters, they led by 15 points. The final score was Hawks 98, Wizards 87. Horford played a team high 42 minutes, and scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out five assists and blocked two shots.
After the game, Hoops Addict asked Horford if fatigue had set in at any point.
“Nah man, surprisingly I felt good. I thought I was going to get tired, but I felt good.”
The significance of bouncing back from a devastating loss the night before to a tough win on the road against a team with nothing to lose was not lost on Horford either.
“Last year we probably would have not had as much of an edge as we did this time, you know? Regardless of who was out there, we know we’d have to come out there and play hard,” Horford explained while getting dressed after the game. “It showed toughness from our guys, and that’s something Coach [Mike Woodson] really harped on before the game.”
After getting dressed and before heading towards the bus, Horford answered one more question about the DVDs he chose to watch while stuck on the plane.
Horford paused, then broke out in laughter and said:
“Desperate Housewives. It’s one of the shows that I watch.”
Given the previous 24 hours he had endured, no one dared question him about his choice.