The Atlanta Hawks return to Boston tonight to take on the Celtics in Game 6 of their first round 4 vs. 5 Eastern Conference series. On Tuesday the Hawks staved off elimination with a gutsy 87-86 victory in the ATL.
Both sides had five players score in double figures, and the 48 wasn’t decided until the final moments as Rajon Rondo stole Josh Smith’s inbounds pass with 10 tics on the clock and raced down the court. Unfortunately for the Green Teamers, the Boston PG got caught up along the sideline with Al Horford and threw the ball away as time expired.
Speaking of Horford, the Hawks center returned to Larry Drew’s starting lineup for the first time since January 11th when he tore his left pectoral muscle. The 5th-year big man and 2X NBA All-Star had 19 points, 11 boards, 3 steals and 3 blocks in an unexpected 41 minutes of run.
The insertion of Horford into the first 5 was accompanied by another tactical rotation decision. Instead of veteran 6’4” Kirk Hinrich, the Hawks moved the 6’9” Marvin Williams into the starting five, which allowed Joe Johnson to switch to the 2-guard spot.
This forced coach Doc Rivers’ hand in that his backcourt of 6’1” Rondo and 6’2”, 2nd-year Avery Bradley were less effective on both ends. Bradley ended up playing only 18 minutes with 2 shots and 2 points as the C’s utilized the taller Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus to counter the Hawks’ length on the wings.
The Celts won both games played on their homecourt in this series. In Game 3, with Josh Smith out with a tweaked knee and rugged Horford not yet available, Atlanta took Boston to overtime before losing 90-84. The Hawks full roster was available in Game 4 at the TD Garden, but the C’s annihilated them 101-79. And it wasn’t really that close. The largest Boston lead was 37 before Doc Rivers pulled his core guys and let the bench finish the rout.
The Celtics posted a strong 24-9 home record during the regular season. However, the Hawks were one of only seven teams in the league with a winning record on the road. In addition, both Boston starters captain Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley are dinged-up. The 14th-year Pierce has a sprained MCL in his left knee, and a strained left rotator cuff has slowed the defensive savant Bradley. Both are expected to play tonight in their diminished capacities.
The Hawks would love to send this series back to Hotlanta for a home-cooked Game 7, so look for this young, anything-can-happen roster to battle all night with their backs up against the elimination wall. Tune in this evening at 8PM ET to TNT as the 17-banner Celtics try to finish off the Hawks in Titletown.