The story of the first round of the playoffs for the Hawks has been a lack of big men. No Al Horford. No Zaza Pachulia. No Josh Smith, at least at the end of Game 2 and all of Game 3.
That changed Sunday night, with the Hawks welcoming back Horford and Smith, though Pachulia remained out because of bone chips in his foot.
But it didn’t do as much good for Atlanta as it had hoped, with the Celtics routing the Hawks, 101-79, in Game 4 at TD Garden.
There had been a lot of discussion about Smith’s availability after he sprained his knee. The return of Horford from a torn left pectoral flew under the radar, with the center having waffled in the days leading up to the playoffs about whether he might be ready to face the Celtics. The first indication that he might play was when his name appeared on the active roster for Sunday’s game.
He had worked out before the game, taken part in the team’s shootaround, and told the coaches that he was able to play after warm-ups.
“It was just being able to mentally prepare myself for a playoff, intense kind of game,’’ Horford said. “I knew that I wasn’t there two days ago, as far as the physical and things like that, my body [was] feeling good.
“So after [Saturday’s] practice I felt good enough and I told myself if I woke up on Sunday and felt good, I was going to try to give it a go, and that was the case.’’
Horford has been out for most of the season, having played in just 11 games, none since sustaining the injury Jan. 11 against the Pacers.
In his brief time on the court this season, Horford averaged 12.4 points and seven rebounds.
But, in the end, it didn’t. The Hawks got down early, and were never able to recover, as Horford - who entered the game with 5:20 remaining in the first quarter - finished with 12 points and five rebounds.
Despite the presence of Horford and Smith in the first quarter, the Celtics clobbered the Hawks, playing some of their best basketball of the series, as Horford looked particularly out of sorts.
Horford, after playing for the first time in four months, said he wasn’t sure how he would come off the 20 minutes he played Sunday. The Hawks’ plan had been to play him approximately five minutes per quarter, but Horford felt good enough to play those 20 minutes in the first three. After that, there was no need for him, not in a blowout.
Said coach Larry Drew, “I thought he did a good job coming back after being off three-plus months.’’
“It’s a different feeling, just excited to be back out there,’’ Horford said. “I’ll be able to tell more how I feel tomorrow. Because right now I still have that adrenaline going. I have to see how I feel in order to play on Tuesday.’’
Smith, on the other hand, said that he was definitely going to play Tuesday. He played 32 minutes Sunday, scoring 15 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
“It was a little sore to begin with,’’ Smith said, who expects to feel sore again Monday. “When the game started going, my knee started warming. It started getting a little more flexible.’’
McGrady feels OK
Tracy McGrady said he didn’t stay off his rolled ankle Saturday. Instead, he walked around, got some treatment, and said he wasn’t worried about bouncing back in Game 4. “Yesterday it was pretty sore, today I felt fine,’’ McGrady said. “Shouldn’t be any problem. I’m not worried about it.’’ He finished with 2 points in just nine minutes . . . Ivan Johnson, who had appeared to be ticketed for a big role in this series, didn’t even get into Sunday’s game until the fourth quarter. Johnson finished with 1 point and four rebounds in six-plus minutes of garbage time . . . Jannero Pargo, with 11 points, was third on the Hawks behind Smith’s 15 and Horford’s 12. Joe Johnson had just 9 points and three assists . . . Smith again expressed some displeasure with the way the Atlanta fans have supported his team. The stands at Philips Arena weren’t full in either of the first two games of the series, and Smith noticed.