With the Celtics set to face the Hawks in the playoffs , one big question leading into this series was the availability of Al Horford for the Hawks. After some initial reports that he was expected back, Horford today told Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports that he's probably out.
"I don't feel like it is realistic that I can play for the playoffs," Horford said. "Obviously, if we advance and start going we will see. But as of right now the way I feel I think I am out for the playoffs."
That's a huge break for the Celtics. Horford changes the matchups and makes the Hawks a much more dangerous team. Instead of Zaza Pachulia starting against KG or Brandon Bass, it would be Horford. And the Hawks could mix and match the Smith/Horford matchup on either Bass or Garnett. Then with Pachulia coming off the bench, it would test the rebounding mettle of the second unit, and Greg Stiemsma in particular. Stiemsma has gotten a lot better, but he's still not the strongest rebounder on the floor.
Without Horford, the Hawks will have to pick their poison and figure out which really good mid-range jump shooting big will get shots. And there's still the potential mental blow to the team that had been looking forward to Horford's return. That may or may not be overstated, but if they were really anticipating it, then there may be some let down.
Mental variables aside, this is obviously great news for the Celtics. I didn't think home court mattered before (though it's still possible), but I think it matters less now. I have a hard time thining it's Celtics in anything more than 6 games at this point.