ATLANTA — Al Horford scored 19 points in his first start since January, and the Atlanta Hawks held on for an 87-86 victory over the Boston Celtics in a thrilling Game 5 of the Eastern Conference playoffs Tuesday night.
The Celtics lead the series 3-2 heading back to Boston for Game 6 on Thursday. If the Hawks can steal one on the road, the deciding game would be Saturday in Atlanta.
Boston had a chance to clinch the series when Rajon Rondo stole Josh Smith’s inbounds pass with 10 seconds remaining and raced down the court, looking for the winner. But he got hemmed in along the sideline and Smith knocked away a desperation pass, the ball rolling away as time ran out.
A relieved Smith collapsed on the scorer’s table.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 16 points apiece. Rondo had 13 points and 12 assists, and the last of his five assists gave Boston a chance to end the series early and get some much-needed rest.
But there’s still work to do.
The Hawks kept their season going, getting a huge contribution from a player who wasn’t there for much of it. Horford went down in January with a torn pectoral muscle, missing the rest of the regular season and the first three games of the playoffs.
Smith clearly looked hobbled by a sore knee, but he still managed 13 points and 16 rebounds. Jeff Teague had 16 points, while Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams had 15 apiece, giving Atlanta double-figure scoring from all five of its starters in a revamped lineup.