Al Horford scored 19 points and hauled in 11 rebounds while Josh Smith added 13 points and 16 rebounds to help the Hawks hold off the Celtics, 87-86, in a back-and-forth Game 5 Tuesday night at Philips Arena in Atlanta. The Hawks stay alive in the series, which the Celtics still lead, 3-2, with Game 6 Thursday at the Garden. Rajon Rondo stole an inbounds pass with 10 seconds remaining and came down with a chance to win the game and series but lost control in heavy defense and could not get a shot off.
Horford -- playing in just his second game in three months -- was huge, scoring Atlanta's final four points on a pair of clutch low-post moves and putting defensive pressure on Rondo to keep him from getting off a shot in the closing seconds. Rondo had 13 points, 12 assists and five rebounds. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett each scored 16 points, while Ray Allen played his third straight game and tallied 15 off the bench.
Pierce hit a 3-pointer with 50.6 seconds remaining to get the C's within a point, 87-86. Jeff Teague missed a trey and Pierce had a chance for the lead, but his jumper from 18 feet fell short with just under 30 seconds remaining.
As he did in Game 4, Pierce came out on fire. Pierce, who was 10-for-13 before resting his slightly sprained left knee Sunday night, hit four of his first six shots. The Celtics defense held the Hawks to just 6-of-21 shots in the first quarter, but Boston made just 9-of-21 and could only manage a 21-15 lead after a quarter when Garnett hit a straightaway jumper at the buzzer.
The Celtics opened the second quarter on 7-3 spurt to take their first double-digit lead of the night, capped by an Allen layup, putting Boston up 28-18. But the Hawks, ice cold for the first 15 minutes of the game, suddenly caught fire. Marvin Wililams hit back-to-back treys while Smith and Teague both hit triples as the Hawks hit four straight 3-point shots and went on a 22-9 run to take a three-point lead. The Celtics ended the second quarter the same way they ended the first, with a buzzer-beater, as Rondo nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing to tie the game at 40 at the half. The Celtics shot just 33 percent in the second quarter and were outscored 25-19.
Things only got worse in the third quarter for the Celtics as the Hawks beat them up and down the court, racing out to a 66-54 lead. Pierce was laboring badly on the court with his sprained left knee and the Hawks took advantage. But the Celtics came back, thanks to a rally led entirely by Rondo. He scored six straight points and then fed Mickael Pietrus for a layup as the Celtics closed on a 10-0 run to trim the Atlanta lead to two, 66-64.
The Celtics seem inspired to close out the Hawks, opening the fourth by outscoring Atlanta 9-3 to take a three-point lead. Rondo hit a floater with 9:14 left in the fourth to give the Celtics a 70-68 lead, their first lead since 37-34 in the second quarter. Allen then hit a 3-pointer to put the Celtics up 73-69 with 8:33 left.
Then the Hawks responded, going on a 14-1 run to go up 83-74. The Celtics came back with the next nine points, capped off by an Allen trey with 2:40 left, to tie it at 83. But Horford came out of a timeout and dunked it with 2:20 left to put Atlanta ahead. He then hit a jump hook on the right baseline to put Atlanta up 87-83.
Game 6 is back at the Garden Thursday night in Boston, and the Celtics need to win to close out the series and avoid a Game 7 Saturday in Atlanta.