Al Horford and a balanced offensive attack from Atlanta lifted the Hawks to an 87-86 Game 5 victory at home over the Celtics yesterday, forcing a Game 6 to be played in Boston on Thursday night.. The Hawks’ victory put the series at 3-2 and prolonged their playoff life for at least one more game.
After missing almost the entire season with a pectoral injury, Al Horford had a decent outing in his return in Game 4, but Boston blew the game wide open. But last night, on Atlanta’s home floor, Horford’s solid performance on both ends of the court was able to elevate his team to a narrow victory. Horford led the Hawks with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but he also provided the defensive play of the night for Atlanta by guarding Rajon Rondo in the game’s final seconds. Rondo felt Horford’s defensive pressure and lost control of a crossover, which prevented him from getting a shot off. But while Horford led the way, the rest of Atlanta’s starters weren’t far behind. An all-around balanced offensive effort from the Hawks was what made the difference in Game 5: Josh Smith had 13 points and 16 rebounds, Jeff Teague had 16 points, and Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams had 15 points each.
For Boston, Paul Pierce fell back into subpar shooting, finishing with 16 points. Kevin Garnett also had 16 and Brandon Bass added 14. Rajon Rondo only had 13 while Avery Bradley, who has been a consistent contributor in the second half of the Celtics’ season, only played 18 minutes through the dislocated shoulder and had just two points. Ray Allen continued to play well despite the ailing ankle and put up 15 points. But in the end, mediocre performances from the majority of Boston’s starters wasn’t enough in Atlanta to wrap the series up and give the Celts some much-needed rest should they advance to the second round.
Atlanta will need to find a way to duplicate this performance for Game 6 on the road. They’ll also be hoping that Paul Pierce doesn’t feed off the home crowd’s energy and go ballistic like he did in the Game 4 rout, because if he does, Atlanta will be going home empty-handed in the first round of the playoffs once again. The Hawks could also do with a little more production out of Joe Johnson and Josh Smith on the offensive end; 87 points might not be enough on the road against a Celtics team that is deadly in the TD Garden. From Boston’s perspective, all they really need to do is respond and take care of business at home with a focused and high-energy effort. If Pierce can have a decent shooting night, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett will do what they do. And if Avery Bradley is healthy, the Celtics will benefit from having him and then Ray Allen coming off the bench, which would more than likely be too much for the Hawks. Even though they would have liked the chance to rest, Boston could afford losing Game 5 on the road. This veteran squad will realize they need to wrap things up at home to avoid a dangerous Game 7 back in Atlanta and should take care of business.