Technically, Hawks center Al Horford is a rookie. But he operates like a veteran, a player who's been around the NBA longer than 10 months.So when he sensed that his team needed a little inspiration before Saturday's Game 3 of their playoff series with Boston, Horford took matters into his own hands.
He called back to the Florida basketball offices to get an edited copy of the Academy Award winning documentary "When We Were Kings," the story of Muhammad Ali's famous upset of George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974.
The Hawks watched the video after shootaround practice Saturday morning. Horford knew immediately that the impact was the same as it was during his freshman season at Florida, when the Gators watched it before a crucial game and went on to knock off Kentucky in the championship game of the SEC Tournament.
"We were big underdogs against Kentucky," Horford said. "(Florida coach Billy Donovan) put it on for us and everybody got hyped up. We were ready to go and we went out there and busted our (butts)."
The Hawks needed all the inspiration they could muster after getting blown out in Games 1 and 2 in Boston.
"It's one of those deals," Horford said of the video that didn't arrive until Friday. "The best part is it's a true story. Ali wasn't supposed to beat Foreman. Nobody gave him a chance. We understand that. And I feel like we can get it done."
And get it done they did, with a huge 102-93 Game 3 win over the Celtics Saturday at Philips Arena.
HAWKS 102, CELTICS 93: Philips Arena's roof was barely stapled down the last time the Hawks hosted a playoff game in this city.
Saturday night, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Al Horford and the rest of the Hawks tried to make sure a raucous sellout crowd of 19,725 blew the roof off the joint with a rousing Game 3 win over Boston, the Hawks finally drawing blood in an Eastern Conference playoff series that was hideously one-sided before now.
The Celtics lead the series 2-1 with Game 3 set for Monday night at Philips Arena. The earliest the Celtics could win the series now is in Game 5 in Boston on Wednesday.
If Smith plays another game Monday the way he did Saturday night, though, who knows how long this series could last?
Smith, the 22-year-old Atlanta native, played the game of his young life, running the floor relentlessly in leading the Hawks with 27 points, nine rebounds, six assists and as many game-changing plays as one man could cram into the first home playoff game of his life.
"My heart was racing," Smith said afterward. "I was so excited, especially when we came out and saw how many Hawks fans were out there. We haven't been in the playoffs for nine years, and I wanted to give the city of Atlanta something to talk about and something to cheer about."
Folks are probably doing plenty of both now.
The Hawks led by as many as 15 points, and Smith showcased every bit of athleticism and versatility before the home crowd, draining three of his six 3-pointers as well as electrifying the crowd with fast-break dunks and blocked shots that he smacked so loud you could hear it in the upper deck seats.
"He was the motor out there tonight," Marvin Williams said after finishing with 13 points and six rebounds. "Josh got us going early and we never let up. Even when the game was tied (56-56) at halftime, we knew that if we cranked it back up in the second half we had something going."
The Hawks hadn't won a home playoff game since May 16, 1999, a Game 5 win over Detroit. They hadn't hosted a playoff game since May 20, 1999, their last postseason game before snapping their eight-year swoon this season.
They made up for all the lost time Saturday, feeding off the crowd on their way to the franchise's biggest win in at least a decade.
"It's a fantastic feeling," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "And it couldn't happen to a better bunch of guys. I'm so proud of this team. For this to happen for the city of Atlanta and our fans that have supported us and been with us all season, it's unbelievable."