By DONNELL SUGGS (Special to the Daily World)
Maybe this is exactly who the Atlanta Hawks really are. Maybe their advancing to the second round of the NBA playoffs the past three seasons isn’t just an aberration – an illusion of where they are supposed to be as a franchise – but rather what they actually are.
Drawing a crowd of 19,319 to Philips Arena on May 8, the Atlanta Hawks defeated the visiting Boston Celtics by a single point, 87-86, staving off elimination in the first round of the Eastern Conference best-of seven series.
The series now stands at 3-2 in favor of the Celtics going into Game 6, which moves back to Boston on May 10.
The Hawks had as much as a 12-point lead in the second half, but had to rely on their defense to quell Boston’s final run at the basket.
Following a turnover by Atlanta’s Josh Smith on an inbounds pass that was recovered by Boston’s Rajon Rondo with 10 seconds remaining in the game, Al Horford applied the pressure that kept the point guard from scoring as time ran out. The Hawks’ defense had already forced the three time All-Star point guard into five turnovers throughout the game.
“Defensively I felt we were on the money with what we were trying to do,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew.
“I didn’t like our execution at the end of the game. I think we did some things we shouldn’t have done and overall [they] played better,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.
Horford was also key to the Hawks offensive attack. Back for only his second game in over three months due to a shoulder injury, Horford scored a game-high 19 points – eight in the fourth quarter – while gathering in 11 rebounds.
And for the first time since Game 1, Atlanta out-rebounded Boston, decisively winning the battle of the boards 41-33.
Josh Smith had a game-high 16 rebounds to go along with 13 points following a rough start, and was instrumental down the stretch. He hit all three of his field goal attempts in the final quarter after missing 10 of his first 13 shots.
Continuing to struggle offensively, guard Joe Johnson hit just 6-of-16 field goals and finished with 15 points, but facilitated the offense by finding open teammates.
“I felt every time I had the ball they were doubling so I tried to make the right play and get the ball to the open man,” Johnson said.
Atlanta’s Jeff Teague finished with 16 points and five assists, while teammate Marvin Williams chipped in 15.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett led Boston with 16 points apiece, and Brandon Bass (14), Ray Allen (15) and Rondo (13) also finished in double figures.