ATLANTA Al Horford wasn't feeling any pain. Maybe it was the adrenaline. Or possibly he was numb. Most likely he was still in shock.
Some how, some way, the young Atlanta Hawks center shrugged off the rustiness and steadied his legs and found the breath to grind and battle the Boston Celtics for 41 minutes.
And the Hawks needed all of Horford's seconds and every one of his 19 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, three assists and three steals to take an 87-86 victory on Tuesday night and force Game 6 in this first round series, which the Celtics lead 3-2 heading back to Boston.
"Al Horford was terrific," Boston coach Doc Rivers said.
Indeed he was, even if his lengthy time on the court seemed to surprise even himself. The Hawks needed a jolt, and they received it in the form of a massive dose of Horford.
"Al Horford was absolutely huge," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "His ability to move around at times when we were forced to make switches on defense, and his foot speed enabled him to stay with the ball. He was a superman for us down the stretch."
If Horford seemed sluggish at first, it's tough to blame him. This was only his second game since returning from a torn left pectoral muscle on Jan. 11, and it showed what the Hawks had missed practically all season without their all-star center.
The injury filled his winter with discomfort. Surgery was needed to repair the tear. That led to rehab and sitting and watching his teammates finish strong and make the playoffs.
Horford then gave mixed signals before the series began, going back and forth on whether he was ready to return before deciding he was healthy enough to play. Even then, he sat the first three games, finally returning in Game 4. Horford saw action for the first time in nearly four months in the blowout loss, contributing 12 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes.
He wasn't sure what to expect on Tuesday, but thought he and Drew had an agreement that he would play only 15 to 25 minutes. They obviously didn't shake on it.
Horford not only started, he played 20 minutes by halftime. His stats were lackluster at that point, with only two points and six rebounds, but the score was tied.
When the third quarter began, Horford started scoring. He hit a jumper and another, and then a layup. His inspired play invigorated his teammates and the crowd. Soon, the Hawks led 66-54.
"In the second half, I was able to get going," Horford said. "The guys found me and I was able to hit a couple of jumpers and that got my confidence going again. After that, I felt pretty good."
The minutes and fast pace took their toll and Horford went to the bench at the start of the fourth. He sat for a few minutes before returning to the court. The short break was all he needed.
Horford began scoring and rebounding and defending, and with the score tied at 83, there he was again.
His dunk on a pass from Jeff Teague gave the Hawks an 85-83 lead.
Horford then scored Atlanta's last basket, a driving hybrid hook shot for a four-point advantage with 1:34 left.
He wasn't done. The Hawks needed him one more time.
After Boston's Rajon Rondo stole the ball on the Hawks' final possession, Horford was there to cut off his path to the basket. It forced Rondo to lose his balance and attempt a bad pass, which was deflected by the Hawks' Josh Smith as the final second ticked off the clock.
"I didn't want to lose the series that way, so I didn't want to let Rondo shoot a jumper over me," Horford said. "You're fighting for your life out there. I wanted to bring energy to the team. We needed to win this game."
With Horford on the court, the Hawks are a different team. They started Game 5 with the lineup they thought they'd have all season. In reality, it was the first time that Horford, Smith, Teague, Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams were in the starting lineup since Jan. 6.
"This is the team that they thought they were going to start the season with," Rivers said. "They now have it, and now we have to deal with it."
And especially with Horford.
Follow Andy Johnston on Twitter @aj_braves