The first Sunday of the 2012-13 NBA season is in the books, and oh what a glorious Sunday it was.
We saw as Kevin Durant came up just shy of a triple-double, watched as J.J. Redick propelled the determined Orlando Magic to a blowout victory over the Phoenix Suns and witnessed Dwight Howard leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their first victory of the season.
But none of those performances stack up to Al Horford's Sunday vendetta.
James Harden or not, no one saw this coming.
Al Horford's stat line: 23 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, one block, one steal on 57.9 percent shooting in 33 minutes.
Without Smith—who had sprained his ankle against the Harden-led Houston Rockets—the Hawks didn't stand a chance against a still prolific and suddenly hungry Thunder team, especially on their own turf.
Or so we thought.
Horford exploded on both ends of the floor, leading Atlanta's surprisingly effective cause.
It wasn't just that he posted a double-double with ease or that he shot a ridiculously high percentage from the floor. It was that he led a team consisting largely of marginal role players over a star-studded 10-point favorite.
Horford kept Atlanta's head above water with his crafty low-post maneuvers, his-efficient jump shot and his ability to read double-teams and get the the ball to the open man.
Perhaps even more impressive, though—and likely lost in the stat lines—he limited Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins to 25 points combined, which allowed the Hawks to actually outscore Oklahoma City in the paint, 42-38.
He played a major role in forcing Ibaka—who still shot 6-of-9 from the field—to the outside while also limiting Perkins' looks at the basket.
Did Ibaka and Perkins shoot a combined 64.2 percent from the floor? Yes, but that came on just 14 shots, and any team can live with Ibaka hoisting up those 20-foot jumpers.
The fact is, Horford helped limit their looks inside while also holding the Thunder to just seven offensive rebounds all game.
That simply cannot be stressed enough.
After losing Joe Johnson, this was supposed to be Smith's team. And when he went down, Atlanta didn't have a shot in the dark at competency until he returned.
Yet here Horford was, excelling in every aspect of the game, drawing enough double-teams so a guy like Ivan Johnson could easily pitch in 10 points off the bench, compressing defenses to the point that allowed Devin Harris, Anthony Tolliver and Anthony Morrow to knock down a high percentage of three-point shots.
His performance—one that included six offensive rebounds—was downright inspiring.
It gave a look into the true depth of this supposedly mediocre Atlanta roster, provided hope for them even without Smith and raised the team's ultimate ceiling in general a notch or two—in just one game.
Simply put, he never gave up. Even when Oklahoma City came storming back in the fourth quarter, seemingly ready to complete the come-from-behind victory, Horford battled in the post.
Battled to the point of 33 exhausting minutes, battled to the point where Kevin Martin's 28 points and Durant's triple-double weren't enough for the Thunder.
And most importantly, battled to the point of victory.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!